ΔFosB: A transcriptional regulator of stress and antidepressant responses

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Abstract

ΔFosB is a member of the Fos family of transcription factors. While other family members are induced rapidly but transiently in response to a host of acute stimuli, ΔFosB is unique in that it accumulates in response to repeated stimulation due to its unusual protein stability. Such prolonged induction of ΔFosB, within nucleus accumbens (NAc), a key brain reward region, has been most studied in animal models of drug addiction, with considerable evidence indicating that ΔFosB promotes reward and motivation and serves as a mechanism of drug sensitization and increased drug self-administration. In more recent years, prolonged induction of ΔFosB has also been observed within NAc in response to chronic administration of certain forms of stress. Increasing evidence indicates that this induction represents a positive, homeostatic adaptation to chronic stress, since overexpression of ΔFosB in this brain region promotes resilience to stress, whereas blockade of its activity promotes stress susceptibility. Chronic administration of several antidepressant medications also induces ΔFosB in the NAc, and this induction is required for the therapeutic-like actions of these drugs in mouse models. Validation of these rodent findings is the demonstration that depressed humans, examined at autopsy, display reduced levels of ΔFosB within the NAc. As a transcription factor, ΔFosB produces this behavioral phenotype by regulating the expression of specific target genes, which are under current investigation. These studies of ΔFosB are providing new insight into the molecular basis of depression and antidepressant action, which is defining a host of new targets for possible therapeutic development.

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