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PLoS One. 2019 Aug 23;14(8):e0221163. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0221163. eCollection 2019.

MicroRNA profiling identifies a novel compound with antidepressant properties.

Author information

Department of Anesthesiology, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas, United States of America.
Graduate School of Biomedical Science, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas, United States of America.
University of Mississippi Medical Center: Psychiatry & Human Behavior, Jackson, Mississippi, United States of America.
GenUs BioSystems, Northbrook, Illinois, United States of America.
Paradise Genomics, Inc., Northbrook, Illinois, United States of America.


Patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI) are frequently diagnosed with depression. Together, these two leading causes of death and disability significantly contribute to the global burden of healthcare costs. However, there are no drug treatments for TBI and antidepressants are considered off-label for depression in patients with TBI. In molecular profiling studies of rat hippocampus after experimental TBI, we found that TBI altered the expression of a subset of small, non-coding, microRNAs (miRNAs). One known neuroprotective compound (17β-estradiol, E2), and two experimental neuroprotective compounds (JM6 and PMI-006), reversed the effects of TBI on miRNAs. Subsequent in silico analyses revealed that the injury-altered miRNAs were predicted to regulate genes involved in depression. Thus, we hypothesized that drug-induced miRNA profiles can be used to identify compounds with antidepressant properties. To confirm this hypothesis, we examined miRNA expression in hippocampi of injured rats treated with one of three known antidepressants (imipramine, fluoxetine and sertraline). Bioinformatic analyses revealed that TBI, potentially via its effects on multiple regulatory miRNAs, dysregulated transcriptional networks involved in neuroplasticity, neurogenesis, and circadian rhythms- networks known to adversely affect mood, cognition and memory. As did E2, JM6, and PMI-006, all three antidepressants reversed the effects of TBI on multiple injury-altered miRNAs. Furthermore, JM6 reduced TBI-induced inflammation in the hippocampus and depression-like behavior in the forced swim test; these are both properties of classic antidepressant drugs. Our results support the hypothesis that miRNA expression signatures can identify neuroprotective and antidepressant properties of novel compounds and that there is substantial overlap between neuroprotection and antidepressant properties.

Conflict of interest statement

The support of MTF and KEOT by GenUs Biosystems and Paradise Genomics, Inc. does not alter our adherence to PLOS ONE policies on sharing data and materials.

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