Antidepressants recruit new neurons to improve stress response regulation

Mol Psychiatry. 2011 Dec;16(12):1177-88. doi: 10.1038/mp.2011.48. Epub 2011 May 3.


Recent research suggests an involvement of hippocampal neurogenesis in behavioral effects of antidepressants. However, the precise mechanisms through which newborn granule neurons might influence the antidepressant response remain elusive. Here, we demonstrate that unpredictable chronic mild stress in mice not only reduces hippocampal neurogenesis, but also dampens the relationship between hippocampus and the main stress hormone system, the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Moreover, this relationship is restored by treatment with the antidepressant fluoxetine, in a neurogenesis-dependent manner. Specifically, chronic stress severely impairs HPA axis activity, the ability of hippocampus to modulate downstream brain areas involved in the stress response, the sensitivity of the hippocampal granule cell network to novelty/glucocorticoid effects and the hippocampus-dependent negative feedback of the HPA axis. Remarkably, we revealed that, although ablation of hippocampal neurogenesis alone does not impair HPA axis activity, the ability of fluoxetine to restore hippocampal regulation of the HPA axis under chronic stress conditions, occurs only in the presence of an intact neurogenic niche. These findings provide a mechanistic framework for understanding how adult-generated new neurons influence the response to antidepressants. We suggest that newly generated neurons may facilitate stress integration and that, during chronic stress or depression, enhancing neurogenesis enables a dysfunctional hippocampus to restore the central control on stress response systems, then allowing recovery.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antidepressive Agents / pharmacology
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cell Count / methods
  • Cell Count / statistics & numerical data
  • Corticosterone / blood
  • Corticosterone / metabolism
  • Depression / drug therapy
  • Depression / physiopathology
  • Dexamethasone
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Fluoxetine / pharmacology*
  • Fluoxetine / therapeutic use*
  • Hippocampus / diagnostic imaging
  • Hippocampus / drug effects*
  • Hippocampus / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Hydrocarbons, Halogenated / pharmacology
  • Hydrocarbons, Halogenated / therapeutic use
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / drug effects
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Neurogenesis / drug effects*
  • Neurogenesis / physiology
  • Pituitary-Adrenal Function Tests / methods
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / drug effects
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiopathology
  • Radiography
  • Stress, Psychological / drug therapy*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology
  • Thiazines / pharmacology
  • Thiazines / therapeutic use


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Hydrocarbons, Halogenated
  • SSR125543
  • Thiazines
  • Fluoxetine
  • Dexamethasone
  • Corticosterone