CRH signaling. Molecular specificity for drug targeting in the CNS.Ann N Y Acad Sci 2009; 1179:106-19AN
There is an urgent need to generate new drugs or improve existing ones in the pharmacology of mood disorders. The corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) system is closely involved in the development and course of depression, and drugs targeting this system arguably offer hope to improve the current tools for drug treatment of depression. Recent clinical studies in depressed patients showed that CRHR1 antagonists improve clinical symptoms of anxiety and depression and reduce stress hormone release following psychosocial stress. These effects of CRHR1 antagonists were not associated with reduced secretory capacity of corticotrophic cells because of CRH receptor abundance at the pituitary level, which contrasts with CRH receptors in the brain. This is in accordance with previous studies showing that CRH injections into the mouse brain activate MAPK pathways in a brain region-specific manner pointing toward differences in signaling pathways beyond the receptor level. We will highlight this and discuss how these brain area-specific differences may offer opportunities for drug discovery. An additional puzzle in the search of new targets for depression is the lack of bona fide animal models helping to discover the antidepressants that are not monoamine based. We recently developed a conditional mouse model that overexpresses CRH in a spatio-temporal-regulated fashion and permits to dissect precisely the contribution of different brain areas to the CRH-dependent behaviors. Recent findings obtained with this mouse model and its usefulness in the context of the CRH-dependent, region-specific changes in depression will be discussed.