Scopolamine rapidly increases mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 signaling, synaptogenesis, and antidepressant behavioral responses

Biol Psychiatry. 2013 Nov 15;74(10):742-9. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2013.04.025. Epub 2013 Jun 14.


Background: Clinical studies report that scopolamine, an acetylcholine muscarinic receptor antagonist, produces rapid antidepressant effects in depressed patients, but the mechanisms underlying the therapeutic response have not been determined. The present study examines the role of the mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) and synaptogenesis, which have been implicated in the rapid actions of N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor antagonists.

Methods: The influence of scopolamine on mTORC1 signaling was determined by analysis of the phosphorylated and activated forms of mTORC1 signaling proteins in the prefrontal cortex (PFC). The numbers and function of spine synapses were analyzed by whole cell patch clamp recording and two-photon image analysis of PFC neurons. The actions of scopolamine were examined in the forced swim test in the absence or presence of selective mTORC1 and glutamate receptor inhibitors.

Results: The results demonstrate that a single, low dose of scopolamine rapidly increases mTORC1 signaling and the number and function of spine synapses in layer V pyramidal neurons in the PFC. Scopolamine administration also produces an antidepressant response in the forced swim test that is blocked by pretreatment with the mTORC1 inhibitor or by a glutamate alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazole propionic acid receptor antagonist.

Conclusions: Taken together, the results demonstrate that the antidepressant actions of scopolamine require mTORC1 signaling and are associated with increased glutamate transmission, and synaptogenesis, similar to N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor antagonists. These findings provide novel targets for safer and more efficacious rapid-acting antidepressant agents.

Keywords: Acetylcholine; GABA; depression; glutamate; ketamine; synaptic plasticity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antidepressive Agents / pharmacology*
  • Dendritic Spines / drug effects
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials
  • Male
  • Mechanistic Target of Rapamycin Complex 1
  • Multiprotein Complexes / metabolism*
  • Muscarinic Antagonists / pharmacology*
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Neurons / ultrastructure
  • Prefrontal Cortex / drug effects*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / metabolism
  • Prefrontal Cortex / ultrastructure
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Scopolamine / pharmacology*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Stress, Psychological / drug therapy*
  • Swimming / psychology
  • Synapses / drug effects*
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Multiprotein Complexes
  • Muscarinic Antagonists
  • Scopolamine
  • Mechanistic Target of Rapamycin Complex 1
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases