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Translocator protein (18kDa) TSPO: a new diagnostic or therapeutic target for stress-related disorders?

Mol Psychiatry. 2022 Apr 20. doi: 10.1038/s41380-022-01561-3. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 35444254.

Authors/Editors: Rupprecht R, Wetzel CH, Dorostkar M, Herms J, Albert NL, Schwarzbach J, Schumacher M, Neumann ID.
Publication Date: 2022


Efficient treatment of stress-related disorders, such as depression, is still a major challenge. The onset of antidepressant drug action is generally quite slow, while the anxiolytic action of benzodiazepines is considerably faster. However, their long-term use is impaired by tolerance development, abuse liability and cognitive impairment. Benzodiazepines act as positive allosteric modulators of ɣ-aminobutyric acid type A (GABAA) receptors. 3α-reduced neurosteroids such as allopregnanolone also are positive allosteric GABAA receptor modulators, however, through a site different from that targeted by benzodiazepines. Recently, the administration of neurosteroids such as brexanolone or zuranolone has been shown to rapidly ameliorate symptoms in post-partum depression or major depressive disorder. An attractive alternative to the administration of exogenous neurosteroids is promoting endogenous neurosteroidogenesis via the translocator protein 18k Da (TSPO). TSPO is a transmembrane protein located primarily in mitochondria, which mediates numerous biological functions, e.g., steroidogenesis and mitochondrial bioenergetics. TSPO ligands have been used in positron emission tomography (PET) studies as putative markers of microglia activation and neuroinflammation in stress-related disorders. Moreover, TSPO ligands have been shown to modulate neuroplasticity and to elicit antidepressant and anxiolytic therapeutic effects in animals and humans. As such, TSPO may open new avenues for understanding the pathophysiology of stress-related disorders and for the development of novel treatment options.


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