Hemokinin-1 mediates anxiolytic and anti-depressant-like actions in mice

Brain Behav Immun. 2017 Jan;59:219-232. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2016.09.004. Epub 2016 Sep 9.


The tachykinin NK1 receptor was suggested to be involved in psychiatric disorders, but its antagonists have failed to be effective as antidepressants in clinical trials. Hemokinin-1 (HK-1), the newest tachykinin, is present in several brain regions and activates the NK1 receptor similarly to substance P (SP), but acts also through other mechanisms. Therefore, we investigated the roles of the Tac4 gene-derived HK-1 in comparison with SP and neurokinin A (NKA) encoded by the Tac1 gene, as well as the NK1 receptor in anxiety and depression-like behaviors in mice. Mice lacking SP/NKA, HK-1 or the NK1 receptor (Tac1-/-, Tac4-/-, Tacr1-/-, respectively) compared to C57Bl/6 wildtypes (WT), and treatment with the NK1 antagonist CP99994 were used in the experiments. Anxiety was evaluated in the light-dark box (LDB) and the elevated plus maze (EPM), locomotor activity in the open field (OFT) tests. Hedonic behavior was assessed in the sucrose preference test (SPT), depression-like behavior in the tail suspension (TST) and forced swim (FST) tests. FST-induced neuronal responsiveness was evaluated with Fos immunohistochemistry in several stress-related brain regions. In the LDB, Tac4-/- mice spent significantly less, while Tacr1-/- and CP99994-treated mice spent significantly more time in the lit compartment. In the EPM only Tac4-/- showed reduced time in the open arms, but no difference was observed in any other groups. In the OFT Tac4-/- mice showed significantly reduced, while Tac1-/- and Tacr1-/- animals increased motility than the WTs, but CP99994 had no effect. NK1-/- consumed markedly more, while Tac4-/- less sucrose solution compared to WTs. In the TST and FST, Tac4-/- mice showed significantly increased immobility. However, depression-like behavior was decreased both in cases of genetic deletion and pharmacological blockade of the NK1 receptor. FST-induced neuronal activation in different nuclei involved in behavioral and neuroendocrine stress responses was significantly reduced in the brain of Tac4 -/- mice. Our results provide the first evidence for an anxiolytic and anti-depressant-like actions of HK-1 through a presently unknown target-mediated mechanism. Identification of its receptor and/or signaling pathways might open new perspectives for anxiolytic and anti-depressant therapies.

Keywords: Behavior; Elevated plus maze test; Forced swim test; Fos immunohistochemistry; Light-dark box test; Open field test; Sucrose preference test; Tachykinins; Tail suspension test.

MeSH terms

  • Anhedonia
  • Animals
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents / pharmacology*
  • Anxiety / genetics*
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Depression / genetics*
  • Depression / psychology
  • Food Preferences
  • Genes, fos
  • Hindlimb Suspension
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Motor Activity
  • Protein Precursors / genetics*
  • Protein Precursors / physiology*
  • Receptors, Neurokinin-1 / genetics
  • Substance P / genetics
  • Tachykinins / genetics*
  • Tachykinins / physiology*


  • Anti-Anxiety Agents
  • Protein Precursors
  • Receptors, Neurokinin-1
  • Tac4 protein, mouse
  • Tachykinins
  • Substance P