Clinical and preclinical evidence suggest a hyperactive glutamatergic system in clinical depression. Recently, the metabotropic glutamate receptor 5 (mGluR5) has been proposed as an attractive target for discovery of novel therapeutic approaches against depression. The goal of this study was to compare mGluR5 binding (PET study) and mGluR5 protein expression (postmortem study) between subjects with major depressive disorder and healthy controls.
Images of mGluR5 receptor binding were acquired using PET and [11C]ABP688 that binds to an allosteric site with high specificity in 11 unmedicated subjects with major depression and 11 matched healthy controls; the amount of mGluR5 protein was investigated using Western blot method in brain samples of 15 depressed subjects and 15 matched controls (postmortem study).
The PET study revealed decreased regional mGluR5 binding in the prefrontal cortex, the cingulate cortex, the insula, the thalamus and the hippocampus of the depressed individuals (uncorrected p<0.001). Severity of depression correlated negatively with mGluR5 binding in the hippocampus (cluster-level corrected p=0.029). The postmortem study showed reduced mGluR5 protein expression in the prefrontal cortex (Brodmann's area 10) in depression (p<0.014), while prefrontal mGluR1 protein expression was unchanged.
The reductions in mGluR5 binding found in the depressed sample are compatible with reduced protein expression in postmortem tissue. Thus, both studies suggest that basal or compensatory changes in excitatory neurotransmission play roles in the pathophysiology of major depression.