Role of the Brain's Reward Circuitry in Depression: Transcriptional Mechanisms

Int Rev Neurobiol. 2015;124:151-70. doi: 10.1016/bs.irn.2015.07.003. Epub 2015 Aug 21.


Increasing evidence supports an important role for the brain's reward circuitry in controlling mood under normal conditions and contributing importantly to the pathophysiology and symptomatology of a range of mood disorders, such as depression. Here we focus on the nucleus accumbens (NAc), a critical component of the brain's reward circuitry, in depression and other stress-related disorders. The prominence of anhedonia, reduced motivation, and decreased energy level in most individuals with depression supports the involvement of the NAc in these conditions. We concentrate on several transcription factors (CREB, ΔFosB, SRF, NFκB, and β-catenin), which are altered in the NAc in rodent depression models--and in some cases in the NAc of depressed humans, and which produce robust depression- or antidepressant-like effects when manipulated in the NAc in animal models. These studies of the NAc have established novel approaches toward modeling key symptoms of depression in animals and could enable the development of antidepressant medications with fundamentally new mechanisms of action.

Keywords: BDNF; CREB; Chromatin; Dynorphin; Epigenetics; NFκB; Nucleus accumbens; Ventral tegmental area; β-Catenin; ▵FosB.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Depression / pathology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology
  • Humans
  • Neural Pathways / metabolism
  • Reward*
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*


  • Transcription Factors