Depressive-like phenotype induced by AAV-mediated overexpression of human α-synuclein in midbrain dopaminergic neurons

D. Caudal, A. Alvarsson, A. Björklund, P. Svenningsson

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46 Scopus citations


Parkinson's disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder characterized by a progressive loss of nigral dopaminergic neurons and by the presence of aggregates containing α-synuclein called Lewy bodies. Viral vector-induced overexpression of α-synuclein in dopaminergic neurons represents a model of PD which recapitulates disease progression better than commonly used neurotoxin models. Previous studies using this model have reported motor and cognitive impairments, whereas depression, mood and anxiety phenotypes are less described. To investigate these psychiatric phenotypes, Sprague-Dawley rats received bilateral injections of a recombinant adeno-associated virus (AAV) vector expressing human α-synuclein or GFP into the substantia nigra pars compacta. Behavior was assessed at two timepoints: 3 and 8. weeks post-injection. We report that nigral α-synuclein overexpression led to a pronounced nigral dopaminergic cell loss accompanied by a smaller cell loss in the ventral tegmental area, and to a decreased striatal density of dopaminergic fibers. The AAV-α-synuclein group exhibited modest, but significant motor impairments 8. weeks after vector administration. The AAV-α-synuclein group displayed depressive-like behavior in the forced swim test after 3. weeks, and reduced sucrose preference at week 8. At both timepoints, overexpression of α-synuclein was linked to a hyperactive hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis regulation of corticosterone. The depressive-like phenotype was also correlated with decreased nigral brain-derived neurotrophic factor and spinophilin levels, and with decreased striatal levels of the activity-regulated cytoskeleton-associated protein. This study demonstrates that AAV-mediated α-synuclein overexpression in dopamine neurons is not only useful to model motor impairments of PD, but also depression. This study also provides evidence that depression in experimental Parkinsonism is correlated to dysregulation of the HPA axis and to alterations in proteins involved in synaptic plasticity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)243-252
Number of pages10
JournalExperimental Neurology
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Alpha-synuclein
  • Anxiety
  • Corticosterone
  • Depression
  • Parkinson disease


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