INTRODUCTION: Depression is characterized by behavioral, cognitive and physiological changes, imposing a major burden on the overall wellbeing of the patient. Some evidence indicates that social stress, changes in growth factors (e.g., brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)), and neuroinflammation are involved in the development and progression of the disease. The monoamine oxidase A inhibitor drug harmine was suggested to have both antidepressant and anti-inflammatory properties and may, therefore, be a potential candidate for treatment of depression.
AIM: The goal of this study was to assess the effects of harmine on behavior, brain BDNF levels, and microglia activation in control rats and a rat model of social stress.
MATERIAL AND METHODS: Rats were submitted to 5 consecutive days of repeated social defeat (RSD) or control conditions. Animals were treated daily with harmine (15 mg/kg) or vehicle from day 3 until the end of the experiment. To assess the effects of harmine treatment on behavior, the sucrose preference test (SPT) was performed on days 1, 6, and 15, the open field test (OFT) on days 6 and 14, and the novel object recognition test (NOR) on day 16. Brain microgliosis was assessed using [11C]PBR-28 PET on day 17. Animals were terminated on day 17, and BDNF protein concentrations in the hippocampus and frontal cortex were analyzed using ELISA.
RESULTS: RSD significantly decreased bodyweight and increased anxiety and anhedonia-related parameters in the OFT and SPT on day 6, but these behavioral effects were not observed anymore on day 14/15. Harmine treatment caused a significant reduction in bodyweight gain in both groups, induced anhedonia in the SPT on day 6, and significantly reduced the mobility and exploratory behavior of the animals in the OFT mainly on day 14. PET imaging and the NOR test did not show any significant effects on microglia activation and memory, respectively. BDNF protein concentrations in the hippocampus and frontal cortex were not significantly affected by either RSD or harmine treatment.
DISCUSSION: Harmine was not able to reverse the acute effects of RSD on anxiety and anhedonia and even aggravated the effect of RSD on bodyweight loss. Moreover, harmine treatment caused unexpected side effects on general locomotion, both in RSD and control animals, but did not influence glial activation status and BDNF concentrations in the brain. In this model, RSD-induced stress was not strong enough to induce long-term effects on the behavior, neuroinflammation, or BDNF protein concentration. Thus, the efficacy of harmine treatment on these delayed parameters needs to be further evaluated in more severe models of chronic stress.