Enhancing Depression Mechanisms in Midbrain Dopamine Neurons Achieves Homeostatic Resilience

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Science  18 Apr 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6181, pp. 313-319
DOI: 10.1126/science.1249240

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Resilient Hyperpolarization

Despite constant exposure to all sorts of stressors, most people are resilient and do not develop depression, but we do not understand the neurophysiological underpinnings of stress resilience. Friedman et al. (p. 313) studied this phenomenon in a mouse model of social-defeat stress depression. In the mice they found that, despite apparently pathological levels of hyperpolarization and elevated potassium channel currents in the ventral tegmental area (a structure known to be involved in depression), resilient mice showed normal activity in dopaminergic neurons. Thus, if “depressed” mice were experimentally provoked into hyperpolarization—unexpectedly, they completely reversed depression-related behaviors.


Typical therapies try to reverse pathogenic mechanisms. Here, we describe treatment effects achieved by enhancing depression-causing mechanisms in ventral tegmental area (VTA) dopamine (DA) neurons. In a social defeat stress model of depression, depressed (susceptible) mice display hyperactivity of VTA DA neurons, caused by an up-regulated hyperpolarization-activated current (Ih). Mice resilient to social defeat stress, however, exhibit stable normal firing of these neurons. Unexpectedly, resilient mice had an even larger Ih, which was observed in parallel with increased potassium (K+) channel currents. Experimentally further enhancing Ih or optogenetically increasing the hyperactivity of VTA DA neurons in susceptible mice completely reversed depression-related behaviors, an antidepressant effect achieved through resilience-like, projection-specific homeostatic plasticity. These results indicate a potential therapeutic path of promoting natural resilience for depression treatment.

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