Ketamine has emerged as a novel strategy to treat refractory depression, producing rapid remission, but elicits some side effects that limit its use. In an attempt to investigate a safer compound that may afford an antidepressant effect similar to ketamine, this study examined the effects of the ergogenic compound creatine in a model of depression, and the involvement of phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase/protein kinase B/mammalian target of rapamycin (PI3K/Akt/mTOR) pathway in its effect. In order to induce a depressive-like behavior, mice were administered with corticosterone (20 mg/kg, per os (p.o.)) for 21 days. This treatment increased immobility time in the tail suspension test (TST), an effect abolished by a single administration of creatine (10 mg/kg, p.o.) or ketamine (1 mg/kg, i.p.), but not by fluoxetine (10 mg/kg, p.o., conventional antidepressant). Treatment of mice with wortmannin (PI3K inhibitor, 0.1 μg/site, intracerebroventricular (i.c.v.)) or rapamycin (mTOR inhibitor, 0.2 nmol/site, i.c.v.) abolished the anti-immobility effect of creatine and ketamine. None of the treatments affected locomotor activity of mice. The immunocontents of p-mTOR, p-p70S6 kinase (p70S6K), and postsynaptic density-95 protein (PSD95) were increased by creatine and ketamine in corticosterone or vehicle-treated mice. Moreover, corticosterone-treated mice presented a decreased hippocampal brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) level, an effect abolished by creatine or ketamine. Altogether, the results indicate that creatine shares with ketamine the ability to acutely reverse the corticosterone-induced depressive-like behavior by a mechanism dependent on PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway, and modulation of the synaptic protein PSD95 as well as BDNF in the hippocampus, indicating the relevance of targeting these proteins for the management of depressive disorders. Moreover, we suggest that creatine should be further investigated as a possible fast-acting antidepressant.
Keywords: Akt; Corticosterone; Creatine; Ketamine; Tail suspension test; mTOR.