In preclinical models, it has been reported that social defeat stress activates microglial cells in the CNS. Translocator protein 18 kDa (TSPO) is a mitochondrial protein expressed on microglia in the CNS that has been proposed to be a useful biomarker for brain injury and inflammation. We hypothesized that a TSPO antagonist, ONO-2952, would inhibit the neuroinflammation induced by microglial hyperactivation and associated depressive-like behaviors. An in vitro analysis showed that ONO-2952 suppressed the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines and mitochondrial reactive oxygen species in cultured microglia stimulated by lipopolysaccharide. In mice submitted to chronic social defeat stress, microglia predominantly expressed TSPO in limbic areas implicated in depressive-like behaviors, including the amygdala, ventral hippocampus and nucleus accumbens, in which an increase in the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines in vivo were associated. Treating animals with ONO-2952 during chronic social defeat stress ameliorated impairments in social avoidance and anxiety-like behaviors and suppressed pro-inflammatory cytokine production, suggesting that ONO-2952 exerted an anti-stress effect in this animal model of depression. Thus, targeting TSPO as a candidate for the development of antidepressants that reduce susceptibility to chronic stress could pave the way toward therapeutic interventions for relapse prophylaxis in depression.
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