Reductions in function within the serotonin (5HT) neuronal system have long been proposed as etiological factors in depression. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most common treatment for depression, and their therapeutic effect is generally attributed to their ability to increase the synaptic levels of 5HT. Tryptophan hydroxylase 2 (TPH2) is the initial and rate-limiting enzyme in the biosynthetic pathway of 5HT in the CNS, and losses in its catalytic activity lead to reductions in 5HT production and release. The time differential between the onset of 5HT reuptake inhibition by SSRIs (minutes) and onset of their antidepressant efficacy (weeks to months), when considered with their overall poor therapeutic effectiveness, has cast some doubt on the role of 5HT in depression. Mice lacking the gene for TPH2 are genetically depleted of brain 5HT and were tested for a depression-like behavioral phenotype using a battery of valid tests for affective-like disorders in animals. The behavior of TPH2(-/-) mice on the sucrose preference test, tail suspension test, and forced swim test and their responses in the unpredictable chronic mild stress and learned helplessness paradigms was the same as wild-type controls. While TPH2(-/-) mice as a group were not responsive to SSRIs, a subset responded to treatment with SSRIs in the same manner as wild-type controls with significant reductions in immobility time on the tail suspension test, indicative of antidepressant drug effects. The behavioral phenotype of the TPH2(-/-) mouse questions the role of 5HT in depression. Furthermore, the TPH2(-/-) mouse may serve as a useful model in the search for new medications that have therapeutic targets for depression that are outside of the 5HT neuronal system.
Keywords: SERT; SSRIs; Serotonin; TPH2; TPH2 knock out; depression-like behavior.