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BACKGROUND: Structural MRI has demonstrated brain alterations in depression pathology and antidepressants treatment. While synaptic plasticity has been previously proposed as the potential underlying mechanism of MRI findings at a cellular and molecular scale, there is still insufficient evidence to link the MRI findings and synaptic plasticity mechanisms in depression pathology.
METHODS: In this study, a Wistar-Kyoto (WKY) depression rat model was treated with antidepressants (citalopram or Jie-Yu Pills) and tested in a series of behavioral tests and a 7.0 MRI scanner. We then measured dendritic spine density within altered brain regions. We also examined expression of synaptic marker proteins (PSD-95 and SYP).
RESULTS: WKY rats exhibited depression-like behaviors in the sucrose preference test (SPT) and forced swim test (FST), and anxiety-like behaviors in the open field test (OFT). Both antidepressants reversed behavioral changes in SPT and OFT but not in FST. We found a correlation between SPT performance and brain volumes as detected by MRI. All structural changes were consistent with alterations of the corpus callosum (white matter), dendritic spine density, as well as PSD95 and SYP expression at different levels. Two antidepressants similarly reversed these macro- and micro-changes.
LIMITATIONS: The single dose of antidepressants was the major limitation of this study. Further studies should focus on the white matter microstructure changes and myelin-related protein alterations, in addition to comparing the effects of ketamine.
CONCLUSION: Translational evidence links structural MRI changes and synaptic plasticity alterations, which promote our understanding of SPT mechanisms and antidepressant response in WKY rats.