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Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2017 Dec 1;20(12):1027-1035. doi: 10.1093/ijnp/pyx078.

Striatal N-Acetylaspartate Synthetase Shati/Nat8l Regulates Depression-Like Behaviors via mGluR3-Mediated Serotonergic Suppression in Mice.

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Department of Pharmaceutical Therapy and Neuropharmacology, Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Graduate School of Medicine and Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Toyama, Toyama, Japan.
Division of Neurology, Jichi Medical University, Shimotsuke, Japan.
Center for Gene & Cell Therapy, The Institute of Medical Science, The University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan.



Several clinical studies have suggested that N-acetylaspartate and N-acetylaspartylglutamate levels in the human brain are associated with various psychiatric disorders, including major depressive disorder. We have previously identified Shati/Nat8l, an N-acetyltransferase, in the brain using an animal model of psychosis. Shati/Nat8l synthesizes N-acetylaspartate from L-aspartate and acetyl-coenzyme A. Further, N-acetylaspartate is converted into N-acetylaspartylglutamate, a neurotransmitter for metabotropic glutamate receptor 3.


Because Shati/Nat8l mRNA levels were increased in the dorsal striatum of mice following the exposure to forced swimming stress, Shati/Nat8l was overexpressed in mice by the microinjection of adeno-associated virus vectors containing Shati/Nat8l gene into the dorsal striatum (dS-Shati/Nat8l mice). The dS-Shati/Nat8l mice were further assessed using behavioral and neurochemical tests.


The dS-Shati/Nat8l mice exhibited behavioral despair in the forced swimming and tail suspension tests and social withdrawal in the 3-chamber social interaction test. These depression-like behaviors were attenuated by the administration of a metabotropic glutamate receptor 2/3 antagonist and a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. Furthermore, the metabolism of N-acetylaspartate to N-acetylaspartylglutamate was decreased in the dorsal striatum of the dS-Shati/Nat8l mice. This finding corresponded with the increased expression of glutamate carboxypeptidase II, an enzyme that metabolizes N-acetylaspartylglutamate present in the extracellular space. Extracellular serotonin levels were lower in the dorsal striatum of the dS-Shati/Nat8l and normal mice that were repeatedly administered a selective glutamate carboxypeptidase II inhibitor.


Our findings indicate that the striatal expression of N-acetylaspartate synthetase Shati/Nat8l plays a role in major depressive disorder via the metabotropic glutamate receptor 3-mediated functional control of the serotonergic neuronal system.


Shati/Nat8l; behavioral despair; mGluR3; serotonin; social withdrawal

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