• depression;
  • differentiation;
  • GAP-43;
  • laminin;
  • neural cell adhesion L1;
  • norepinephrine


Recent research into depression has focused on the involvement of long-term intracellular processes, leading to abnormal neuronal plasticity in brains of depressed patients, and reversed by antidepressant treatment. Given a suggested decrease in noradrenergic transmission in depression, and an antidepressant induced increase in norepinephrine (NE) level, a possible role for NE in mediating alterations in neuronal morphology and plasticity was examined. Human neuroblastoma SH-SY5Y cells treated with 10−5 m NE presented an elongated granule-rich cell-body and increased number of neurites, when compared with non-treated cells. Moreover, cell survival was enhanced in the presence of NE, while proliferation was inhibited. The above effects suggest a role for NE in cell differentiation. Indeed similar effects on cell survival and neurite outgrowth were induced in SH-SY5Y cells by retinoic acid (RA), an established differentiating agent. Finally, NE treatment resulted in a progressive decrease in the pluripotent marker Oct4 and an increase in the neuronal growth cone marker, growth-associated-protein 43 (GAP-43). Alongside these effects, NE-treated cells presented alterations in the expression of 44 genes as observed in a neurobiology cDNA microarray. Among the altered genes, an increase in the expression level of two neurite-outgrowth promoting genes, neural cell adhesion molecule L1 and laminin, was confirmed by RT-PCR. Taken together, the results support a role for NE in processes of synaptic connectivity, and may point to a role for this neurotransmitter in mediating the suggested neuronal plasticity in depression and in antidepressant treatment.