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Behavioral, neurochemical, and electrophysiological characterization of a genetic mouse model of depression

  • Malika El Yacoubi
  • Saoussen Bouali
  • Daniela Popa
  • Laurent Naudon
  • Isabelle Leroux-Nicollet
  • Michel Hamon
  • Jean Costentin
  • Joëlle Adrien
  • Jean-Marie Vaugeois
The National Academy of Sciences
Publication Date
May 05, 2003
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Medicine


Depression is a multifactorial illness and genetic factors play a role in its etiology. The understanding of its physiopathology relies on the availability of experimental models potentially mimicking the disease. Here we describe a model built up by selective breeding of mice with strikingly different responses in the tail suspension test, a stress paradigm aimed at screening potential antidepressants. Indeed, “helpless” mice are essentially immobile in the tail suspension test, as well as the Porsolt forced-swim test, and they show reduced consumption of a palatable 2% sucrose solution. In addition, helpless mice exhibit sleep–wakefulness alterations resembling those classically observed in depressed patients, notably a lighter and more fragmented sleep, with an increased pressure of rapid eye movement sleep. Compared with “nonhelpless” mice, they display higher basal seric corticosterone levels and lower serotonin metabolism index in the hippocampus. Remarkably, serotonin1A autoreceptor stimulation induces larger hypothermia and inhibition of serotoninergic neuronal firing in the nucleus raphe dorsalis in helpless than in nonhelpless mice. Thus, helpless mice exhibit a decrease in serotoninergic tone, which evokes that associated with endogenous depression in humans. Finally, both the behavioral impairments and the serotoninergic dysfunction can be improved by chronic treatment with the antidepressant fluoxetine. The helpless line of mice may provide an opportunity to approach genes influencing susceptibility to depression and to investigate neurophysiological and neurochemical substrates underlying antidepressant effects.

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