Transcriptional dys-regulation in anxiety and major depression: 5-HT1A gene promoter architecture as a therapeutic opportunity

Curr Pharm Des. 2014;20(23):3738-50. doi: 10.2174/13816128113196660740.


The etiology of major depression remains unclear, but reduced activity of the serotonin (5-HT) system remains implicated and treatments that increase 5-HT neurotransmission can ameliorate depressive symptoms. 5-HT1A receptors are critical regulators of the 5- HT system. They are expressed as both presynaptic autoreceptors that negatively regulate 5-HT neurons, and as post-synaptic heteroreceptors on non-serotonergic neurons in the hippocampus, cortex, and limbic system that are critical to mediate the antidepressant actions of 5-HT. Thus, 5-HT1A auto- and heteroreceptors have opposite actions on serotonergic neurotransmission. Because most 5-HT1A ligands target both auto- and heteroreceptors their efficacy has been limited, resulting in weak or unclear responses. We propose that by understanding the transcriptional regulation of the 5-HT1A receptor it may be possible to regulate its expression differentially in raphe and projection regions. Here we review the transcriptional architecture of the 5-HT1A gene (HTR1A) with a focus on specific DNA elements and transcription factors that have been shown to regulate 5-HT1A receptor expression in the brain. Association studies with the functional HTR1A promoter polymorphism rs6295 suggest a new model for the role of the 5-HT1A receptor in susceptibility to depression involving early deficits in cognitive, fear and stress reactivity as stressors that may ultimately lead to depression. We present evidence that by targeting specific transcription factors it may be possible to oppositely regulate 5-HT1A auto- and heteroreceptor expression, synergistically increasing serotonergic neurotransmission for the treatment of depression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety / drug therapy*
  • Anxiety / genetics*
  • Base Sequence
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / drug therapy*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / genetics*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Gene Frequency
  • Gene-Environment Interaction
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Receptor, Serotonin, 5-HT1A / genetics*
  • Regulatory Elements, Transcriptional / genetics
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Species Specificity
  • Transcription, Genetic*


  • Receptor, Serotonin, 5-HT1A