Clinical reports document that depression as a side effect is more prevalent in hepatic patients given interferon (IFN)-α therapy than in those given lamivudine. The mechanisms, however, are poorly understood. Serotonin transporter (5-HTT), via uptake of serotonin (5-HT) into presynaptic serotoninergic neurons, is an initial action site for antidepressants. Real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) was used to quantify 5-HTT mRNA expression in immune cells in order to evaluate whether 5-HTT acted as an indicator of depression. Results showed that the 5-HTT mRNA expression was much higher in T-cell and B-cell lines than that in a monocytic cell line. Treatment with either lamivudine or ribavirin reduced the 5-HTT mRNA expression, protein level and 5-HT uptake in T-cell line. Treatment with IFN-α, however, increased those levels in the same group. A similar effect was observed in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC). Mimicking clinical use by treating PBMC with a combination of IFN-α and ribavirin increased the 5-HTT mRNA expression level. Our study indicates that these therapeutic drugs regulate 5-HTT expression, which implies that 5-HTT might be a trait marker in IFN-α-induced depression after hepatic therapy.
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