Brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels may improve understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying refractory depression, including the effects of antidepressant and antipsychotic therapy in early life, according to findings from a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

The researchers studied the effects of escitalopram and blonanserin administration on depressive and social behaviors, using a rat model. Adolescent rats were given corticosterone and grouped according to exposure status to prenatal ethanol, which formed the basis of the novel refractory depression model. Subsequently, the investigators assessed changes in rat behaviors and measured brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels in the serum and other brain regions, including the nucleus accumbens, hippocampus, and anterior cingulate cortex.

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After analysis, the researchers found that the use of escitalopram improved depressive behaviors and lowered brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels in the nucleus accumbens and serum. In addition, therapy with blonanserin lessened irregular social behaviors and reduced brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels in serum.

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A key limitation of the study was the lack of understanding of the links between brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels and antidepressant or antipsychotic therapy.

“Our results also support the notion that serum and nucleus accumbens [brain-derived neurotrophic factor] level reductions have therapeutic potential in pharmaceutical interventions for treatment-resistant refractory depression,” the researchers wrote.


Furuse K, Ukai W, Hashimoto E, et al. Antidepressant activities of escitalopram and blonanserin on prenatal and adolescent combined stress-induced depression model: Possible role of neurotrophic mechanism change in serum and nucleus accumbens. J Affect Disord. 2019;247:97-104.