Increased homocysteine levels associated with sex and stress in the learned helplessness model of depression

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Setnik, B.
Souza, F. G. de
d'Almeida, V
Nobrega, J. N.
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Elevated levels of homocysteine (Hey) have been associated with major depressive (MD) illness. As human females show a higher predisposition towards depression, this study examined how Hey levels in rats are affected by sex and estrous cycle in the learned helplessness (LH) model of depression. Male and female rats in either estrus or diestrus were subjected to LH, with intervals of 4 days between the two stress tests and between tests and sacrifice, in order to accommodate the female estrous cycle. No differences were found in LH behavior between males and females at either estrous phase. Control Hcy levels were significantly lower in females than in males (-36%, P<.001), with no further differences between estrous and diestrus phases in females. Stress exposure increased plasma Hcy by approximately 26% in females, both in estrus and diestrus, but not in males. However, when behavioral responses to stress were considered, no association was found between increased Hcy levels and propensity to develop helpless behavior. Therefore, while male rats have higher basal Hcy levels than females, females appear to be more vulnerable than males to stress-induced elevations in Hey, although this did not correlate with behavioral responses to stress. Neither was this vulnerability influenced by estrous phase. These results imply that both stress and sex should be considered as risk factors for increased plasma Hey. (C) 2003 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior. Oxford: Pergamon-Elsevier B.V., v. 77, n. 1, p. 155-161, 2004.