Depression is a common mental disorder and is one of the main causes of disability. Berberine (BBR), the major constituent alkaloid originally from the famous Chinese herb Huanglian (Coptis chinensis), has been shown to exert antidepressant-like effects. This study was to investigate the hypothesis that BBR treats depressive-like behavior by shifting the balance of the kynurenine (KYN)/serotonin (5-HT) pathway toward the 5-HT pathway through downregulated indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase 1 (IDO1), monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) and upregulated dopamine decarboxylase (DDC) in hippocampus.
A chronic unpredictable mild stress (CUMS) mice model of depression was established via 21 days unpredictable stimulation. Then the mice were randomly assigned into six groups, namely control, model, fluoxetine [FLU, (10 mg/kg)], BBRL (25 mg/kg), BBRM (50 mg/kg), and BBRH (100 mg/kg) groups. Behavioral assessments were conducted to evaluate the antidepressant effects of BBR. The levels of 5-HT, KYN, tryptophan (TRP), and 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5-HIAA) in hippocampus were estimated using high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). The mRNA and protein levels of DDC, MAOA and IDO1 in hippocampus were detected by real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR) and western blot (WB), respectively.
The results showed that a successful CUMS mice model was established through 21 days of continuous unpredictable stimulation, as indicated by the significant decrease in locomotor activity and increase in immobility time, reduction in body weight and sucrose preference rate etc. Compared with the normal group, the concentrations of KYN/TRP had significantly increased (p <0.01) and 5-HT/5-HIAA had decreased (p<0.05) at day 21 in the control group, but then improved after drug treatment with FLU and BBR. Compared with the normal group, the mRNA of IDO1 and MAOA were significantly upregulated (p<0.05) in the control group, MAOA and IDO1 gene were downregulated by FLU and BBR treatment. Protein expressions of IDO1 and MAOA was significantly increased (p<0.05) and DDC downregulated (p<0.01). BBR treatment downregulated IDO1 and MAOA, upregulated DDC.
BBR reversed the abnormalities of the KYN/5-HT pathway in depressed mice and achieved an excellent antidepressant effect. Its direct impact may be observed as changes in biological indicators in mice hippocampus tissue.

Copyright © 2022. Published by Elsevier B.V.