Background: Antidepressant drugs (ADs) have been shown to activate BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) receptor TrkB in the rodent brain but the mechanism underlying this phenomenon remains unclear. ADs act as monoamine reuptake inhibitors and after prolonged treatments regulate brain bdnf mRNA levels indicating that monoamine-BDNF signaling regulate AD-induced TrkB activation in vivo. However, recent findings demonstrate that Trk receptors can be transactivated independently of their neurotrophin ligands.
Methodology: In this study we examined the role of BDNF, TrkB kinase activity and monoamine reuptake in the AD-induced TrkB activation in vivo and in vitro by employing several transgenic mouse models, cultured neurons and TrkB-expressing cell lines.
Principal findings: Using a chemical-genetic TrkB(F616A) mutant and TrkB overexpressing mice, we demonstrate that ADs specifically activate both the maturely and immaturely glycosylated forms of TrkB receptors in the brain in a TrkB kinase dependent manner. However, the tricyclic AD imipramine readily induced the phosphorylation of TrkB receptors in conditional bdnf⁻/⁻ knock-out mice (132.4±8.5% of control; P = 0.01), indicating that BDNF is not required for the TrkB activation. Moreover, using serotonin transporter (SERT) deficient mice and chemical lesions of monoaminergic neurons we show that neither a functional SERT nor monoamines are required for the TrkB phosphorylation response induced by the serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors fluoxetine or citalopram, or norepinephrine selective reuptake inhibitor reboxetine. However, neither ADs nor monoamine transmitters activated TrkB in cultured neurons or cell lines expressing TrkB receptors, arguing that ADs do not directly bind to TrkB.
Conclusions: The present findings suggest that ADs transactivate brain TrkB receptors independently of BDNF and monoamine reuptake blockade and emphasize the need of an intact tissue context for the ability of ADs to induce TrkB activity in brain.