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Atypical Neurotransmitters and the Neurobiology of Depression.

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Department of Physics and Chemistry, School of Pharmaceutical Sciences of Ribeirao Preto, Campus USP, Av. Cafe, sn, Monte Alegre, Ribeirao Preto-SP 14040-903, Brazil.


Since the first report that the mechanism of action of antidepressants involves the facilitation of monoaminergic neurotransmission in the brain in the 1960s, the leading hypothesis about the neurobiology of depression has been the so called "monoaminergic hypothesis". However, a growing body of evidence from the last two decades also supports important involvement of non-monoaminergic mechanisms in the neurobiology of depression and antidepressant action. The discovery of nitric oxide (NO) and endocannabinoid signaling in the brain during the 1990s challenged the wellestablished criteria of classical neurotransmission. These transmitters are synthesized and released on demand by the postsynaptic neurons, and may act as a retrograde messenger on the presynaptic terminal, modulating neurotransmitter release. These unconventional signaling mechanisms and the important role as neural messengers have classified NO and endocannabinoids as atypical neurotransmitters. They are able to modulate neural signaling mediated by the main conventional neurotransmitters systems in the brain, including the monoaminergic, glutamatergic and GABAergic signaling systems. This review aims at discussing the fundamental aspects of NO- and endocannabinoid-mediated signaling in the brain, and how they can be related to the neurobiology of depression. Both preclinical and clinical evidence supporting the involvement of these atypical neurotransmitters in the neurobiology of depression, and in the antidepressant effects are presented here. The evidence is discussed on basis of their ability to modulate different neurotransmitter systems in the brain, including monoaminergic and glutamatergic ones. A better comprehension of NO and endocannabinoid signaling mechanisms in the neurobiology depression could provide new avenues for the development of novel non-monoamine based antidepressants.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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