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Neuropsychopharmacology. 2011 Jul;36(8):1754-68. doi: 10.1038/npp.2011.57. Epub 2011 Apr 20.

Antidepressant drugs diversely affect autophagy pathways in astrocytes and neurons--dissociation from cholesterol homeostasis.

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Chaperone Research Group, Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, Munich, Germany.


In the search for antidepressants' (ADs') mechanisms of action beyond their influence on monoaminergic neurotransmission, we analyzed the effects of three structurally and pharmacologically different ADs on autophagic processes in rat primary astrocytes and neurons. Autophagy has a significant role in controlling protein turnover and energy supply. Both, the tricyclic AD amitriptyline (AMI) and the selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor citalopram (CIT) induced autophagy as mirrored by pronounced upregulation and cellular redistribution of the marker LC3B-II. Redistribution was characterized by formation of LC3B-II-positive structures indicative of autophagosomes, which associated with AVs in a time-dependent manner. Deletion of Atg5, representing a central mediator of autophagy in MEFs, led to abrogation of AMI-induced LC3B-I/II conversion. By contrast, VEN, a selective serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor, did not promote autophagic processes in either cell type. The stimulatory impact of AMI on autophagy partly involved class-III PI3 kinase-dependent pathways as 3-methyladenine slightly diminished the effects of AMI. Autophagic flux as defined by autophagosome turnover was vastly undisturbed, and degradation of long-lived proteins was augmented upon AMI treatment. Enhanced autophagy was dissociated from drug-induced alterations in cholesterol homeostasis. Subsequent to AMI- and CIT-mediated autophagy induction, neuronal and glial viability decreased, with neurons showing signs of apoptosis. In conclusion, we report that distinct ADs promote autophagy in neural cells, with important implications on energy homeostasis.

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