A major hypothesis of depression postulates that a dysregulation of the neurotrophin systems is directly involved in the pathophysiology of depression, and that restoration of such deficits may underlie the therapeutic efficacy of antidepressant treatment. One key finding supporting this hypothesis is upregulation of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the hippocampus after antidepressant treatment. Here, we further test the hypothesis of BDNF involvement in antidepressant action in a genetic rat model of depression after chronic oral treatment with escitalopram, nortriptyline or placebo. Active treatments had significant behavioural antidepressant-like actions in female rats of the Flinders Sensitive Line (FSL) and non-selected Sprague Dawley (SD) rats, while Flinders Resistant Line (FRL) rats were unaffected. Escitalopram, but not nortriptyline, markedly reduced BDNF mRNA levels in the dentate gyrus of FSL rats. The BDNF downregulation was common to the four major promoters of the gene. Treatments did not affect BDNF expression in FRL or SD strains. We conclude that the antidepressant effects of escitalopram and nortriptyline, two common drugs with different pharmacological profiles, appear to be unrelated to the regulation of hippocampal BDNF expression in female rats. These results indicate that the tropic hypothesis of depression has limitations and emphasize the need for validated disease models of depression to assess potential treatment targets.
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