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Mol Psychiatry. 2010 May;15(5):501-11. doi: 10.1038/mp.2008.106. Epub 2008 Sep 30.

Glial pathology in an animal model of depression: reversal of stress-induced cellular, metabolic and behavioral deficits by the glutamate-modulating drug riluzole.

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Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06437, USA.


Growing evidence indicates that glia pathology and amino-acid neurotransmitter system abnormalities contribute to the pathophysiology and possibly the pathogenesis of major depressive disorder. This study investigates changes in glial function occurring in the rat prefrontal cortex (PFC) after chronic unpredictable stress (CUS), a rodent model of depression. Furthermore, we analyzed the effects of riluzole, a Food and Drug Administration-approved drug for the treatment of amyotrophic laterosclerosis, known to modulate glutamate release and facilate glutamate uptake, on CUS-induced glial dysfunction and depressive-like behaviors. We provide the first experimental evidence that chronic stress impairs cortical glial function. Animals exposed to CUS and showing behavioral deficits in sucrose preference and active avoidance exhibited significant decreases in 13C-acetate metabolism reflecting glial cell metabolism, and glial fibrillary associated protein (GFAP) mRNA expression in the PFC. The cellular, metabolic and behavioral alterations induced by CUS were reversed and/or blocked by chronic treatment with the glutamate-modulating drug riluzole. The beneficial effects of riluzole on CUS-induced anhedonia and helplessness demonstrate the antidepressant action of riluzole in rodents. Riluzole treatment also reversed CUS-induced reductions in glial metabolism and GFAP mRNA expression. Our results are consistent with recent open-label clinical trials showing the drug's effect in mood and anxiety disorders. This study provides further validation of hypothesis that glial dysfunction and disrupted amino-acid neurotransmission contribute to the pathophysiology of depression and that modulation of glutamate metabolism, uptake and/or release represent viable targets for antidepressant drug development.

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