Inhibition of the serotonin transporter induces microglial activation and downregulation of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • Drugs that selectively inhibit the serotonin transporter (SERT) are widely used in the treatment of depression and anxiety disorders. These agents are associated with a range of extrapyramidal syndromes such as akathisia, dystonia, dyskinesia and parkinsonism, suggesting an effect on dopaminergic transmission. We studied the time course of changes in dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra (SN) after initiation of two different SERT inhibitors, citalopram and fluoxetine. In the first experiment, groups of Sprague-Dawley rats received daily meals of rice pudding either alone (N = 9) or mixed with citalopram 5 mg/kg/day (N = 27). Rats were sacrificed after 24 h, 7 days or 28 days of treatment. Sections of SN were processed for tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) immunohistochemistry. Citalopram induced a significant decrease in TH-positive cell counts at 24 h (44%), 7 days (38%) and 28 days (33%). No significant differences among the citalopram treatment groups were observed in the SN. To determine whether these changes would occur with other SERT inhibitors, we conducted a second experiment, this time with a 28 day course of fluoxetine. As was observed with citalopram, fluoxetine induced a significant 21% reduction of TH cell counts in the SN. Immunoblot analysis showed that fluoxetine also induced a 45% reduction of striatal TH. To investigate a possible role for the innate immune system in mediating these changes, we also studied the microglial marker OX42 after administration of fluoxetine and noted a significant 63% increase in the SN of fluoxtine-treated animals. These results indicate that SERT inhibition can activate microglia and alter the regulation of TH, the rate limiting enzyme for dopamine biosynthesis. These changes may play a role in mediating the extrapyramidal side effects associated with SERT inhibitors.

publication date

  • November 2011