Background: Urea, the end product of protein metabolism, has been considered to have negligible toxicity for a long time. Our previous study showed a depression phenotype in urea transporter (UT) B knockout mice, which suggests that abnormal urea metabolism may cause depression. The purpose of this study was to determine if urea accumulation in brain is a key factor causing depression using clinical data and animal models. Methods: A meta-analysis was used to identify the relationship between depression and chronic diseases. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) brain scans and common biochemical indexes were compared between the patients and healthy controls. We used behavioural tests, electrophysiology, and molecular profiling techniques to investigate the functional role and molecular basis in mouse models. Findings: After performing a meta-analysis, we targeted the relevance between chronic kidney disease (CKD) and depression. In a CKD mouse model and a patient cohort, depression was induced by impairing the medial prefrontal cortex. The enlarged cohort suggested that urea was responsible for depression. In mice, urea was sufficient to induce depression, interrupt long-term potentiation (LTP) and cause loss of synapses in several models. The mTORC1-S6K pathway inhibition was necessary for the effect of urea. Lastly, we identified that the hydrolysate of urea, cyanate, was also involved in this pathophysiology. Interpretation: These data indicate that urea accumulation in brain is an independent factor causing depression, bypassing the psychosocial stress. Urea or cyanate carbamylates mTOR to inhibit the mTORC1-S6K dependent dendritic protein synthesis, inducing impairment of synaptic plasticity in mPFC and depression-like behaviour. CKD patients may be able to attenuate depression only by strict management of blood urea.
Wang, H., Huang, B., Wang, W., Li, J., Chen, Y., Flynn, T., … Yang, B. (2019). High urea induces depression and LTP impairment through mTOR signalling suppression caused by carbamylation. EBioMedicine, 48, 478–490. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ebiom.2019.09.049