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Harmine produces antidepressant-like effects via restoration of astrocytic functions

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Depression is a world-wide disease with no effective therapeutic methods. Increasing evidence indicates that astrocytic pathology contributes to the formation of depression. In this study, we investigated the effects of harmine, a natural β-carboline alkaloid and potent hallucinogen, known to modulate astrocytic glutamate transporters, on chronic unpredictable stress (CUS)-induced depressive-like behaviors and astrocytic dysfunctions. Results showed that harmine treatment (10, 20 mg/kg) protected the mice against the CUS-induced increases in the immobile time in the tail suspension test (TST) and forced swimming test (FST), and also reversed the reduction in sucrose intake in the sucrose preference experiment. Harmine treatment (20 mg/kg) prevented the reductions in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) protein levels and hippocampal neurogenesis induced by CUS. In addition, harmine treatment (20 mg/kg) increased the protein expression levels of glutamate transporter 1 (GLT-1) and prevented the CUS-induced decreases in glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) protein expressions in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, suggesting that restoration of astrocytic functions may be a potential mechanism underlying the antidepressant-like effects of harmine. This opinion was proved by the results that administration of mice with l-Alpha-Aminoadipic Acid (L-AAA), a gliotoxin specific for astrocytes, attenuated the antidepressant-like effects of harmine, and prevented the improvement effects of harmine on BDNF protein levels and hippocampal neurogenesis. These results provide further evidence to confirm that astrocytic dysfunction contributes critically to the development of depression and that harmine exerts antidepressant-like effects likely through restoration of astrocytic functions.

Liu, F., Wu, J., Gong, Y., Wang, P., Zhu, L., Tong, L. J., … & Huang, C. (2017). Harmine produces antidepressant-like effects via restoration of astrocytic functions. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry. 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2017.06.012
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