Regulation of tyrosine hydroxylase expression by antidepressant treatments was investigated in the locus coeruleus (LC), the major noradrenergic nucleus in brain. Rats were treated chronically with various antidepressants, and tyrosine hydroxylase levels were measured in the LC by immunoblot analysis. Representatives of all major classes of antidepressant medication-including imipramine, nortriptyline, tranylcypromine, fluvoxamine, fluoxetine, bupropion, iprindole, and electroconvulsive seizures-were found to decrease levels of tyrosine hydroxylase immunoreactivity by 40-70% in the LC. Decreased levels of enzyme immunoreactivity were shown to be associated with equivalent decreases in enzyme mRNA levels. Antidepressant regulation of LC tyrosine hydroxylase appeared specific to these compounds, inasmuch as chronic treatment of rats with representatives of other classes of psychotropic drugs, including haloperidol, diazepam, clonidine, cocaine, and morphine, failed to decrease levels of this protein. The results demonstrate that chronic antidepressants dramatically downregulate the expression of tyrosine hydroxylase in the LC and raise the possibility that such regulation of the enzyme represents an adaptive response of LC neurons to antidepressants that mediates some of their therapeutic actions in depression and/or other psychiatric disturbances.
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