Neuropeptides: corticotropin releasing factor (CRF), neuropeptide Y (NPY) and somatostatin (STS) have been associated with depression and anxiety, while neurotensin (NT), calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) and tachykinins [neurokinin A (NKA) and substance P (SP)] are presumed to also play a role in the function of the dopaminergic system. Moreover, investigations in the past decade have shown that psychotomimetics and antipsychotic drugs as well as lithium affect brain synthesis, tissue concentrations, and release of some neuropeptides. In view of the above, experiments were carried out to explore whether changes in neuropeptides constitute one of the mechanisms of action of electroconvulsive treatment (ECT). Human cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) was studied before and after ECT, and brains from healthy and models of depression rats were investigated in electroconvulsive stimuli (ECS)-treated and sham-treated animals. The major findings were that a series of ECTs, in parallel to clinical recovery, increased CSF concentrations of NPY-like immunoreactivity (-LI), STS-LI, and CRF-LI, and in one study endothelin-LI. A series of ECS, but not a single treatment, reproducibly elevated concentrations of NPY-LI, NKA-LI, and STS-LI—but not NT-LI, SP-LI, galanin-LI, or CGRP-LI—in hippocampus, frontal cortex, and occipital cortex. No changes were measured in other regions, e.g., striatum. NPY and STS mRNAs were also increased indicating that ECS affects peptide synthesis. Generalized seizures induced by, e.g., kainic acid or pentylenetetrazole, had similar effects on neuropeptides. The changes persisted for at least 1 week after the last treatment. Pretreatment with compounds reducing seizures, such as benzodiazepines and MK-801, had no effect on magnitude of neuropeptide changes although the seizure duration was decreased by >50%. On the basis of these findings, it is suggested that neuropeptides are involved in ECT's mechanisms of action. Since ECT is therapeutically efficient in both schizophrenia and depression and, taking into account that antipsychotic drugs and psychotomimetics as well as lithium selectively affect some neuropeptides, it is hypothesized that distinct combinations of neuropeptide and monoamine changes in selected neuronal populations constitute the underpinnings of ECT's effects on specific disease symptoms, conceivably independent of diagnosis.
© 1999 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.