Calcineurin Downregulation in the Amygdala Is Sufficient to Induce Anxiety-like and Depression-like Behaviors in C57BL/6J Male Mice

  • Yann S. Mineur
    Division of Molecular Psychiatry and Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program, Abraham Ribicoff Research Facilities, Connecticut Mental Health Center, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut
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  • Seth R. Taylor
    Division of Molecular Psychiatry and Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program, Abraham Ribicoff Research Facilities, Connecticut Mental Health Center, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut
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  • Marina R. Picciotto
    Address correspondence to Marina R. Picciotto, Ph.D., Yale University School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, 34 Park Street-3rd Floor Research, New Haven, CT 06508
    Division of Molecular Psychiatry and Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program, Abraham Ribicoff Research Facilities, Connecticut Mental Health Center, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut
    Search for articles by this author


      The calcium-dependent phosphatase calcineurin is highly expressed in the amygdala, a brain area important for behaviors related to mood disorders and anxiety. Organ transplant patients are administered the calcineurin inhibitor cyclosporine A (CsA) chronically and demonstrate an increased incidence of anxiety and mood disorders. It is therefore important to determine whether chronic blockade of calcineurin may contribute to symptoms of anxiety and depression in these patients.


      Pharmacological (CSA) and viral-mediated gene transfer (adeno-associated viral expression of short hairpin RNA [shRNA]) approaches were used to inhibit calcineurin activity systemically or selectively in the amygdala of the mouse brain to determine the role of calcineurin in behaviors related to anxiety and depression.


      Systemic inhibition of calcineurin activity with CsA or local downregulation of calcineurin levels in the amygdala using adeno-associated viral-delivered shRNAs targeting calcineurin B increased measures of anxiety-like behavior in the elevated plus maze, the light/dark box, and the open field test. A decrease in locomotor activity was also observed in mice treated systemically with CsA. In the forced swim model of depression-like behavior, both systemic CsA treatment and shRNA-mediated calcineurin blockade in the amygdala significantly increased immobility.


      Taken together, these data demonstrate that decreasing calcineurin activity in the amygdala increases anxiety-like behaviors and to some extent depression-like behaviors. These studies suggest that chronic administration of CsA to organ transplant patients could have significant effects on anxiety and mood and this should be recognized as a potential clinical consequence of treatment to prevent transplant rejection.

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