BACKGROUND: Indirect evidence suggests that loss of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) from forebrain regions contributes to an individual's vulnerability for depression, whereas upregulation of BDNF in these regions is suggested to mediate the therapeutic effect of antidepressants. METHODS: We have tested this hypothesis by generating two independent lines of conditional BDNF knockout mice in which the BDNF gene is deleted selectively in forebrain. RESULTS: We show that male conditional knockouts exhibit hyperactivity but normal depression-related behaviors. In contrast, female conditional knockouts display normal locomotor activity but a striking increase in depression-like behavior. We also demonstrate that loss of BDNF in both male and female mice attenuates the actions of the antidepressant desipramine in the forced swim test. CONCLUSIONS: These gender differences in depression-related behaviors in BDNF conditional knockout mice provide direct evidence for a role of BDNF in depression. The results also support the view that forebrain BDNF may be essential in mediating antidepressant efficacy.
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