Rationale: Phencyclidine (PCP) is widely used as an animal model of schizophrenia, because in humans it can induce positive and negative symptoms associated with schizophrenia. PCP is an antagonist of N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors, which are associated with the nitric oxide (NO) system.
Objective and methods: The primary objective was to determine whether neuronal NO synthase (nNOS) is involved in PCP-induced behaviours and neuronal activation, as measured by the expression of c-Fos. After characterizing a PCP mouse model (dose-response study, Experiment 1), we measured PCP-induced effects in mice treated with nNOS antisense oligodeoxynucleotides (AS-ODNs) (Experiment 2), and in nNOS knockout (nNOS-/-) mice (Experiment 3).
Results: PCP 5 mg/kg induced the maximum behavioural effects of all doses tested, consisting of hyperlocomotion, stereotyped turning behaviour, without the presence of ataxia. PCP also induced an increase in Fos-like immunoreactivity (Fos-LIR) in the frontal cortex, as well as in the midline limbic (thalamic and hypothalamic nuclei) areas. In the AS-ODN-treated mice, PCP induced less behaviour when compared to water-treated controls. In the nNOS-/- mice, PCP induced less behaviour and a decrease in Fos-LIR in the frontal cortex and midline limbic areas, when compared to wild-type littermate controls.
Conclusions: Our findings suggest that the frontal cortex and midline thalamic brain regions are involved in PCP-induced effects in mice. Furthermore, we show that an intact nNOS system is necessary to obtain PCP-induced effects. This may implicate nNOS as a viable drug target in the treatment of schizophrenia.