Imipramine attenuates neuroinflammatory signaling and reverses stress-induced social avoidance

Brain Behav Immun. 2015 May;46:212-20. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2015.01.016. Epub 2015 Feb 18.


Psychosocial stress is associated with altered immunity, anxiety and depression. Previously we showed that repeated social defeat (RSD) promoted microglia activation and social avoidance behavior that persisted for 24days after cessation of RSD. The aim of the present study was to determine if imipramine (a tricyclic antidepressant) would reverse RSD-inducedsocial avoidance and ameliorate neuroinflammatory responses. To test this, C57BL/6 mice were divided into treatment groups. One group from RSD and controls received daily injections of imipramine for 24days, following 6 cycles of RSD. Two other groups were treated with saline. RSD mice spent significantly less time in the interaction zone when an aggressor was present in the cage. Administration of imipramine reversed social avoidance behavior, significantly increasing the interaction time, so that it was similar to that of control mice. Moreover, 24days of imipramine treatment in RSD mice significantly decreased stress-induced mRNA levels for IL-6 in brain microglia. Following ex vivo LPS stimulation, microglia from mice exposed to RSD, had higher mRNA expression of IL-6, TNF-α, and IL-1β, and this was reversed by imipramine treatment. In a second experiment, imipramine was added to drinking water confirming the reversal of social avoidant behavior and decrease in mRNA expression of IL-6 in microglia. These data suggest that the antidepressant imipramine may exert its effect, in part, by down-regulating microglial activation.

Keywords: Imipramine; Microglia; Psychosocial stress; Social avoidance; Social defeat.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic / pharmacology*
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects*
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / immunology
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Imipramine / pharmacology*
  • Interleukin-1beta / genetics
  • Interleukin-1beta / metabolism
  • Interleukin-6 / genetics
  • Interleukin-6 / metabolism
  • Lipopolysaccharides / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Microglia / drug effects
  • Microglia / immunology
  • Microglia / metabolism
  • Social Behavior*
  • Stress, Psychological / immunology
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / genetics
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / metabolism


  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic
  • Interleukin-1beta
  • Interleukin-6
  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Imipramine