Backgrounds: Nerve growth factor (NGF) is involved in the modulation of the neuro-endocrine-immune (NEI) system, whereas alterations in neuroplasticity and NEI homeostasis seem to play a role in the pathophysiology of major depressive disorder (MDD). Objective of the study was to investigate NGF levels variations in MDD patients during antidepressant treatment with duloxetine, a relatively newer SNRI. Methods: 30 MDD patients and 32 healthy controls were assessed using Hamilton depression scale (HAM-D) and monitored for NGF serum levels at baseline, week 6 and week 12 of duloxetine treatment (60. mg/day) and at baseline, respectively. Results: According to early clinical response to duloxetine (defined at week 6 by reduction >50% of baseline HAM-D score), MDD patients were distinguished in early responders (ER) and early non-responders (ENR), who overall reached clinical response at week 12. Laboratory analysis showed overall significant lower baseline NGF levels among depressed patients compared to healthy controls, not significantly in ER and significantly in ENR. During duloxetine treatment NGF levels further decreased in association with clinical response, reaching significantly lower values in ER at W6 compared to controls, and in ENR at W12 compared to baseline. Conclusions: A decrease in NGF levels during duloxetine treatment in association to clinical response could be indicative of a relative restoring of NEI stress-adaptation system, since stressors, inducing neuronal instability due to neurotrophins activity changes, permits circuitry remodeling as background in the selection of alternative adaptive behaviors. However, the lower baseline NGF levels found in MDD patients that further decrease during the treatment could represent a lower neurotrophin set point, possibly reflecting a functional impairment in stress-adaptive neuroplasticity in depressive disorders.
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