Hormonal imbalances are involved in many of the age-related pathologies, as neurodegenerative and psychiatric diseases. Specifically, thyroid state alterations in the adult are related to psychological changes and mood disorders as depression. The dentate gyrus of the hippocampal formation undergoes neurogenesis in adult mammals including humans. Recent evidence suggests that depressive disorders and their treatment are tightly related to the number of newly born neurons in the dentate gyrus. We have studied the effect of thyroid hormones (TH) on hippocampal neurogenesis in adult rats in vivo. A short period of adult-onset hypothyroidism impaired normal neurogenesis in the subgranular zone of the dentate gyrus with a 30% reduction in the number of proliferating cells. Hypothyroidism also reduced the number of newborn neuroblasts and immature neurons (doublecortin (DCX) immunopositive cells) which had a severely hypoplastic dendritic arborization. To correlate these changes with hippocampal function, we subjected the rats to the forced swimming and novel object recognition tests. Hypothyroid rats showed normal memory in object recognition, but displayed abnormal behavior in the forced swimming test, indicating a depressive-like disorder. Chronic treatment of hypothyroid rats with TH not only normalized the abnormal behavior but also restored the number of proliferative and DCX-positive cells, and induced growth of their dendritic trees. Therefore, hypothyroidism induced a reversible depressive-like disorder, which correlated to changes in neurogenesis. Our results indicate that TH are essential for adult hippocampal neurogenesis and suggest that mood disorders related to adult-onset hypothyroidism in humans could be due, in part, to impaired neurogenesis.
Molecular Psychiatry (2006) 11, 361-371. doi:10.1038/sj.mp.4001802; published online 31 January 2006.