Long-term antidepressant administration alters corticotropin-releasing hormone, tyrosine hydroxylase, and mineralocorticoid receptor gene expression in rat brain. Therapeutic implications

J Clin Invest. 1991 Mar;87(3):831-7. doi: 10.1172/JCI115086.


Imipramine is the prototypic tricyclic antidepressant utilized in the treatment of major depression and exerts its therapeutic efficacy only after prolonged administration. We report a study of the effects of short-term (2 wk) and long-term (8 wk) administration of imipramine on the expression of central nervous system genes among those thought to be dysregulated in imipramine-responsive major depression. As assessed by in situ hybridization, 8 wk of daily imipramine treatment (5 mg/kg, i.p.) in rats decreased corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) mRNA levels by 37% in the paraventricular nucleus (PVN) of the hypothalamus and decreased tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) mRNA levels by 40% in the locus coeruleus (LC). These changes were associated with a 70% increase in mRNA levels of the hippocampal mineralocorticoid receptor (MR, type I) that is thought to play an important role in mediating the negative feedback effects of low levels of steroids on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Imipramine also decreased proopiomelanocortin (POMC) mRNA levels by 38% and glucocorticoid receptor (GR, type II) mRNA levels by 51% in the anterior pituitary. With the exception of a 20% decrease in TH mRNA in the LC after 2 wk of imipramine administration, none of these changes in gene expression were evident as a consequence of short-term administration of the drug. In the light of data that major depression is associated with an activation of brain CRH and LC-NE systems, the time-dependent effect of long-term imipramine administration on decreasing the gene expression of CRH in the hypothalamus and TH in the LC may be relevant to the therapeutic efficacy of this agent in depression.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Glands / anatomy & histology
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Body Weight / drug effects
  • Corticosterone / metabolism
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone / genetics*
  • Gene Expression / drug effects
  • Imipramine / administration & dosage*
  • Locus Coeruleus / physiology
  • Nucleic Acid Hybridization
  • Organ Size / drug effects
  • Paraventricular Hypothalamic Nucleus / physiology
  • Pituitary Gland, Anterior / physiology
  • Pro-Opiomelanocortin / genetics*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid / genetics*
  • Receptors, Mineralocorticoid
  • Receptors, Steroid / genetics*
  • Secretory Rate / drug effects
  • Time Factors
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / genetics*


  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid
  • Receptors, Mineralocorticoid
  • Receptors, Steroid
  • Pro-Opiomelanocortin
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase
  • Imipramine
  • Corticosterone