The first report demonstrating the therapeutic efficacy of an orally applied neurokinin-1 (NK1) receptor antagonist in depression was published 10 years ago. Although there were difficulties to reproduce this particular finding, a huge amount of data has been published since this time, supporting the potential therapeutic value of various tachykinin ligands as promising novel tools for the management of stress-related disorders including anxiety disorders, schizophrenia and depression. The present review summarizes evidence derived from anatomical, neurochemical, pharmacological and behavioral studies demonstrating the localization of tachykinin neuropeptides including substance P (SP), neurokinin A, neurokinin B and their receptors (NK1, NK2, NK3) in brain areas known to be implicated in stress-mechanisms, mood/anxiety regulation and emotion-processing; their role as neurotransmitters and/or neuromodulators within these structures and their interactions with other neurotransmitter systems including dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin (5- hydroxytryptamine, 5-HT). Finally, there is clear functional evidence from animal and human studies that interference with tachykinin transmission can modulate emotional behavior. Based on these findings and on evidence of upregulated tachykinin transmission in individuals suffering from stress-related disorders, several diverse tachykinin receptor antagonists, as well as compounds with combined antagonist profile have been developed and are currently under clinical investigation revealing evidence for anxiolytic, antidepressant and antipsychotic efficacy, seemingly characterized by a low side effect profile. However, substantial work remains to be done to clarify the precise mechanism of action of these compounds, as well as the potential of combining them with established and experimental therapies in order to boost efficacy.
Keywords: Substance P, NKA, NKB, neurokinin, tachykinin, NK1 receptor, NK2 receptor, NK3 receptor, depression, anxiety
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