Background: The cAMP signaling pathway, and its downstream neurotrophic factor BDNF, are major targets of antidepressant medications. Abnormalities in this pathway have previously been reported in postmortem brain of subjects with mood disorders. This study was designed to test whether the diagnosis of a mood disorder, or treatment with an antidepressant or mood stabilizer was associated with changes in hippocampal BDNF in postmortem brain.
Methods: Frozen postmortem anterior hippocampus sections were obtained from the Stanley Foundation Neuropathology Consortium. Tissue from subjects with major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and nonpsychiatric control subjects were stained for BDNF using immunohistochemistry.
Results: Increased BDNF expression was found in dentate gyrus, hilus and supragranular regions in subjects treated with antidepressant medications at the time of death, compared with antidepressant-untreated subjects. Furthermore, there was a trend toward increased BDNF expression in hilar and supragranular regions in depressed subjects treated with antidepressants, compared with the subjects not on these medications at the time of death.
Conclusions: These findings are consistent with recent studies measuring CREB levels in this same subject sample, and support current animal and cellular models of antidepressant function.