Biological psychiatry

Extracellular signal-regulated kinase 2 signaling in the hippocampal dentate gyrus mediates the antidepressant effects of testosterone.

PMID 22265242


Human and animal studies suggest that testosterone may have antidepressant effects. In this study, we sought to investigate the molecular mechanisms underlying the antidepressant effects of testosterone within the hippocampus, an area that is fundamental in the etiology of depression. The effects of testosterone replacements in gonadectomized adult male rats were investigated using the sucrose preference and forced swim tests. We explored possible effects of testosterone on hippocampal neurogenesis and gene expression of stress-related molecules. Through the use of viral vectors, we pursued the antidepressant molecular mechanism(s) of testosterone in mediating anhedonia and manipulated extracellular signal-regulated kinase 2 (ERK2) expression in the dentate gyrus in gonadectomized rats with testosterone replacements. Testosterone had antidepressant effects, likely mediated by aromatization to estrogen metabolites, in the sucrose preference and forced swim tests despite having no effects on hippocampal cell proliferation or survival. We found a testosterone-dependent regulation of hippocampal ERK2 expression. Functionally, reducing ERK2 activity within the dentate gyrus induced anhedonia in gonadectomized rats receiving testosterone supplementation, whereas the overexpression of ERK2 rescued this behavior in gonadectomized rats. These results implicate a role for ERK2 signaling within the dentate gyrus area of the hippocampus as a key mediator of the antidepressant effects of testosterone.