Depression is a neuropsychiatric disorder affecting a huge percentage of the active population especially in developed countries. Research has devoted much of its attention to this problematic and many drugs have been developed and are currently prescribed to treat this pathology. Yet, many patients are refractory to the available therapeutic drugs, which mainly act by increasing the levels of the monoamines serotonin and noradrenaline in the synaptic cleft. Even in the cases antidepressants are effective, it is usually observed a delay of a few weeks between the onset of treatment and remission of the clinical symptoms. Additionally, many of these patients who show remission with antidepressant therapy present a relapse of depression upon treatment cessation. Thus research has focused on other possible molecular targets, besides monoamines, underlying depression. Both basic and clinical evidence indicates that depression is associated with several structural and neurochemical changes where the levels of neurotrophins, particularly of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), are altered. Antidepressants, as well as other therapeutic strategies, seem to restore these levels. Neuronal atrophy, mostly detected in limbic structures that regulate mood and cognition, like the hippocampus, is observed in depressed patients and in animal behavioural paradigms for depression. Moreover, chronic antidepressant treatment enhances adult hippocampal neurogenesis, supporting the notion that this event underlies antidepressants effects. Here we review some of the preclinical and clinical studies, aimed at disclosing the role of neurotrophins in the pathophysiological mechanisms of depression and the mode of action of antidepressants, which favour the neurotrophic/neurogenic hypothesis.
Keywords: Antidepressants, BDNF, depression, hippocampal neurogenesis, neuropsychiatric disorders, stress, Val66Met, polymorphism, VGF
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