Rationale: Serotonin in the dorsal periaqueductal gray (DPAG) through the activation of 5-HT(1A) and 5-HT(2A) receptors inhibits escape, a defensive behavior associated with panic attacks. Long-term treatment with antipanic drugs that nonselectively or selectively blocks the reuptake of serotonin (e.g., imipramine and fluoxetine, respectively) enhances the inhibitory effect on escape caused by intra-DPAG injection of 5-HT(1A) and 5-HT(2A) receptor agonists. It has been proposed that these compounds exert their effect on panic by facilitating 5-HT-mediated neurotransmission in the DPAG.
Objectives: The objective of this study was to investigate whether facilitation of 5-HT neurotransmission in the DPAG is also observed after treatment with alprazolam, a pharmacologically distinct antipanic drug that acts primarily as a high potency benzodiazepine receptor agonist.
Materials and methods: Male Wistar rats, subchronically (3-6 days) or chronically (14-17 days) treated with alprazolam (2 and 4 mg/kg, i.p.) were intra-DPAG injected with (+/-)-8-hydroxy-2-(di-n-propylamino)tetralin hydrobromide (8-OH-DPAT), (+/-)-1-(2,5-dimethoxy-4-iodophenyl) piperazine dihydrochloride (DOI), and midazolam, respectively, 5-HT(1A), 5-HT(2A/2C), and benzodiazepine receptor agonists. The intensity of electrical current that needed to be applied to the DPAG to evoke escape behavior was measured before and after the microinjection of these agonists.
Results: Intra-DPAG injection of the 5-HT agonists and midazolam increased the escape threshold in all groups of animals tested, indicating a panicolytic-like effect. The inhibitory effect of 8-OH-DPAT and DOI, but not midazolam, was significantly higher in animals receiving long-, but not short-term treatment with alprazolam.
Conclusions: Alprazolam as antidepressants compounds facilitates 5-HT(1A)- and 5-HT(2A)-receptor-mediated neurotransmission in the DPAG, implicating this effect in the mode of action of different classes of antipanic drugs.