Treatment-resistant depression: are animal models of depression fit for purpose?

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2015 Oct;232(19):3473-95. doi: 10.1007/s00213-015-4034-7. Epub 2015 Aug 21.


Background: Resistance to antidepressant drug treatment remains a major health problem. Animal models of depression are efficient in detecting effective treatments but have done little to increase the reach of antidepressant drugs. This may be because most animal models of depression target the reversal of stress-induced behavioural change, whereas treatment-resistant depression is typically associated with risk factors that predispose to the precipitation of depressive episodes by relatively low levels of stress. Therefore, the search for treatments for resistant depression may require models that incorporate predisposing factors leading to heightened stress responsiveness.

Method: Using a diathesis-stress framework, we review developmental, genetic and genomic models against four criteria: (i) increased sensitivity to stress precipitation of a depressive behavioural phenotype, (ii) resistance to chronic treatment with conventional antidepressants, (iii) a good response to novel modes of antidepressant treatment (e.g. ketamine; deep brain stimulation) that are reported to be effective in treatment-resistant depression and (iv) a parallel to a known clinical risk factor.

Results: We identify 18 models that may have some potential. All require further validation. Currently, the most promising are the Wistar-Kyoto (WKY) and congenital learned helplessness (cLH) rat strains, the high anxiety behaviour (HAB) mouse strain and the CB1 receptor knockout and OCT2 null mutant mouse strains.

Conclusion: Further development is needed to validate models of antidepressant resistance that are fit for purpose. The criteria used in this review may provide a helpful framework to guide research in this area.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Anxiety / drug therapy
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Depression / drug therapy
  • Depression / psychology
  • Depressive Disorder, Treatment-Resistant / drug therapy*
  • Depressive Disorder, Treatment-Resistant / psychology*
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Helplessness, Learned
  • Humans
  • Ketamine / therapeutic use
  • Mice
  • Rats


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Ketamine