Molecular evidence for BDNF- and GABA-related dysfunctions in the amygdala of female subjects with major depression

Mol Psychiatry. 2012 Nov;17(11):1130-42. doi: 10.1038/mp.2011.113. Epub 2011 Sep 13.


Women are twice as likely as men to develop major depressive disorder (MDD) and are more prone to recurring episodes. Hence, we tested the hypothesis that the illness may associate with robust molecular changes in female subjects, and investigated large-scale gene expression in the post-mortem brain of MDD subjects paired with matched controls (n=21 pairs). We focused on the lateral/basolateral/basomedian complex of the amygdala as a neural hub of mood regulation affected in MDD. Among the most robust findings were downregulated transcripts for genes coding for γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) interneuron-related peptides, including somatostatin (SST), tachykinin, neuropeptide Y (NPY) and cortistatin, in a pattern reminiscent to that previously reported in mice with low brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Changes were confirmed by quantitative PCR and not explained by demographic, technical or known clinical parameters. BDNF itself was significantly downregulated at the RNA and protein levels in MDD subjects. Investigating putative mechanisms, we show that this core MDD-related gene profile (including SST, NPY, TAC1, RGS4 and CORT) is recapitulated by complementary patterns in mice with constitutive (BDNF-heterozygous) or activity-dependent (exon IV knockout) decreases in BDNF function, with a common effect on SST and NPY. Together, these results provide both direct (low RNA/protein) and indirect (low BDNF-dependent gene pattern) evidence for reduced BDNF function in the amygdala of female subjects with MDD. Supporting studies in mutant mice models suggest a complex mechanism of low constitutive and activity-dependent BDNF function in MDD, particularly affecting SST/NPY-related GABA neurons, thus linking the neurotrophic and GABA hypotheses of depression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Amygdala / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / biosynthesis
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / genetics*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / genetics*
  • Down-Regulation / genetics
  • Female
  • GABAergic Neurons / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods
  • Genetic Association Studies / methods
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropeptide Y / genetics
  • Neuropeptides / genetics
  • Somatostatin / genetics
  • Tachykinins / genetics


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Neuropeptide Y
  • Neuropeptides
  • Tachykinins
  • cortistatin
  • Somatostatin