Rationale: The novel antidepressant agent, agomelatine, behaves as an agonist at melatonin receptors and as an antagonist at serotonin (5-HT)(2C) receptors.
Objectives: To determine whether, by virtue of its antagonist properties at 5-HT(2C) receptors, agomelatine elicits anxiolytic properties in rats.
Methods: Employing a combined neurochemical and behavioural approach, actions of agomelatine were compared to those of melatonin, the selective 5-HT(2C) receptor antagonist, SB243,213, and the benzodiazepine, clorazepate.
Results: In unfamiliar pairs of rats exposed to a novel environment, agomelatine enhanced the time devoted to active social interaction, an action mimicked by clorazepate and by SB243,213. In a Vogel conflict procedure, agomelatine likewise displayed dose-dependent anxiolytic activity with a maximal effect comparable to clorazepate, and SB243,213 was similarly active in this procedure. In a plus-maze procedure in which clorazepate significantly enhanced percentage entries into open arms, agomelatine revealed only modest activity and SB243,213 was inactive. Further, like SB243,213, and in contrast to clorazepate, agomelatine did not suppress ultrasonic vocalizations emitted by rats re-exposed to an environment associated with an aversive stimulus. Whereas clorazepate reduced dialysate levels of 5-HT and noradrenaline in hippocampus and frontal cortex of freely moving rats, agomelatine did not affect extracellular levels of 5-HT and elevated those of noradrenaline. SB243,213 acted similarly to agomelatine. Melatonin, which did not modify extracellular levels of 5-HT or noradrenaline, was ineffective in all models of anxiolytic activity. Furthermore, the selective melatonin antagonist, S22153, did not modify anxiolytic properties of agomelatine in either the social interaction or the Vogel Conflict tests.
Conclusions: In contrast to melatonin, and reflecting blockade of 5-HT(2C) receptors, agomelatine is active in several models of anxiolytic properties in rodents. The anxiolytic profile of agomelatine differs from that of benzodiazepines from which it may also be distinguished by its contrasting influence on corticolimbic monoaminergic pathways.