Background: The polyamines are a group of ubiquitous low-molecular-weight aliphatic molecules that play an essential role in various physiological functions of the mammalian CNS. Previous literature has indicated alterations in the expression of polyamine-related genes in the brains of individuals who died by suicide, including downregulation of spermidine/spermine N1-acetyltransferase, a key enzyme involved in polyamine catabolism. One such polyamine, agmatine, has been shown to act as an antidepressant in animal models of depressive-like behavior. However, agmatine concentrations have not been explored in postmortem human brain of individuals who died by suicide.
Methods: To measure agmatine in postmortem human brain tissue, we employed our previously published high-resolution capillary gas chromatography in combination with mass spectrometry method. Using this method, we analyzed agmatine levels in a total of 120 tissue samples from Brodmann areas 4, 11, and 44 of 40 male subjects comprising controls (n=13), individuals who died by suicide and met criteria for major depressive disorder (n=14), and subjects who died by suicide and did not meet criteria for major depressive disorder (n=13).
Results: Agmatine fell within the expected nanomolar range and was significantly reduced in the cortex of suicides, irrespective of meeting criteria for major depressive disorder compared with controls.
Conclusions: This is the first gas chromatography-mass spectrometry study to analyze agmatine concentrations in human postmortem brain of individuals who died by suicide. These results add to our mechanistic understanding of the role that the polyamine stress response pathway may play in the neurobiology of major depression and/or suicide.