Less serotonin elicits socially defensive responses such as avoidance or submission, where enhancementthe main goal of antidepressantsinduces a positive shift in the perception of socio-affective stimuli, promoting affiliation and dominance. However, current antidepressants targeting serotonin, like SSRIs, are only effective in about 50 percent of patients.
These new findings point to GABA neurons as a new, neural drug target that could help treat the other patients who don't respond to today's treatment.
For the study, "avoidant" mice were exposed to brief bouts of aggression from trained "bully" mice. By comparing gene expression in the brains of resilient and avoidant mice, Berton and colleagues discovered that bullying in avoidant mice puts GABA neurons in a state where they become more excitable and the mice exhibit signs of social defeat. Resilient mice, however, had no change in neuron levels and behavior.
To better understand the link between GABA and the development of stress resilience, Berton, Beck, and colleagues also devised an optogenetics-based approach to directly manipulate levels: Lifting GABA inhibition of serotonin neurons reduced social and anxiety symptoms in mice exposed to bullies and also fully prevented neurobiological changes due to stress.
"Our paper provides a novel cellular understanding of how social defensiveness and social withdrawal develop in mice and gives us a stepping stone to better understand the basis of similar social symptoms in humans," said Berton. "This has important implications for the understanding and treatment of mood disorders."
|Contact: Steve Graff|
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine