N-acetylcysteine prevents stress-induced anxiety behavior in zebrafish

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Despite the recent advances in understanding the pathophysiology of anxiety disorders, the pharmacological treatments currently available are limited in efficacy and induce serious side effects. A possible strategy to achieve clinical benefits is drug repurposing, i.e., discovery of novel applications for old drugs, bringing new treatment options to the market and to the patients who need them. N-acetylcysteine (NAC), a commonly used mucolytic and paracetamol antidote, has emerged as a promising molecule for the treatment of several neuropsychiatric disorders. The mechanism of action of this drug is complex, and involves modulation of antioxidant, inflammatory, neurotrophic and glutamate pathways. Here we evaluated the effects of NAC on behavioral parameters relevant to anxiety in zebrafish. NAC did not alter behavioral parameters in the novel tank test, prevented the anxiety-like behaviors induced by an acute stressor (net chasing), and increased the time zebrafish spent in the lit side in the light/dark test. These data may indicate that NAC presents an anti-stress effect, with the potential to prevent stress-induced psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and depression. The considerable homology between mammalian and zebrafish genomes invests the current data with translational validity for the further clinical trials needed to substantiate the use of NAC in anxiety disorders.

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