Antidepressant Response and Stress Resilience Are Promoted by CART Peptides in GABAergic Neurons of the Anterior Cingulate Cortex

Biol Psychiatry Glob Open Sci. 2022 Jan 17;3(1):87-98. doi: 10.1016/j.bpsgos.2021.12.009. eCollection 2023 Jan.


Background: A key challenge in the understanding and treatment of depression is identifying cell types and molecular mechanisms that mediate behavioral responses to antidepressant drugs. Because treatment responses in clinical depression are heterogeneous, it is crucial to examine treatment responders and nonresponders in preclinical studies.

Methods: We used the large variance in behavioral responses to long-term treatment with multiple classes of antidepressant drugs in different inbred mouse strains and classified the mice into responders and nonresponders based on their response in the forced swim test. Medial prefrontal cortex tissues were subjected to RNA sequencing to identify molecules that are consistently associated across antidepressant responders. We developed and used virus-mediated gene transfer to induce the gene of interest in specific cell types and performed forced swim, sucrose preference, social interaction, and open field tests to investigate antidepressant-like and anxiety-like behaviors.

Results: Cartpt expression was consistently upregulated in responders to four types of antidepressants but not in nonresponders in different mice strains. Responder mice given a single dose of ketamine, a fast-acting non-monoamine-based antidepressant, exhibited high CART peptide expression. CART peptide overexpression in the GABAergic (gamma-aminobutyric acidergic) neurons of the anterior cingulate cortex led to antidepressant-like behavior and drove chronic stress resiliency independently of mouse genetic background.

Conclusions: These data demonstrate that activation of CART peptide signaling in GABAergic neurons of the anterior cingulate cortex is a common molecular mechanism across antidepressant responders and that this pathway also drives stress resilience.

Keywords: Anterior cingulate cortex; Antidepressant response; Depression; GABAergic neurons; Stress resilience; Transcriptome.