Cannabidiol Induces Rapid and Sustained Antidepressant-Like Effects Through Increased BDNF Signaling and Synaptogenesis in the Prefrontal Cortex


Currently available antidepressants have a substantial time lag to induce therapeutic response and a relatively low efficacy. The development of drugs that addresses these limitations is critical to improving public health. Cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychotomimetic component of Cannabis sativa, is a promising compound since it shows large-spectrum therapeutic potential in preclinical models and humans. However, its antidepressant properties have not been completely investigated. Therefore, the aims of this study were to investigate in male rodents (i) whether CBD could induce rapid and sustained antidepressant-like effects after a single administration and (ii) whether such effects could be related to changes in synaptic proteins/function. Results showed that a single dose of CBD dose-dependently induced antidepressant-like effect (7–30 mg/kg) in Swiss mice submitted to the forced swim test (FST), 30 min (acute) or 7 days (sustained) following treatment. Similar effects were observed in the Flinders Sensitive and Flinders Resistant Line (FSL/FRL) rats and the learned helplessness (LH) paradigm using Wistar rats. The acute antidepressant effects (30 min) were associated with increased expression of synaptophysin and PSD95 in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and elevated BDNF levels in both mPFC and hippocampus (HPC). CBD also increased spine density in the mPFC after 30 min, but not 7 days later. Intracerebroventricular injection of the TrkB antagonist, K252a (0.05 nmol/μL), or the mTOR inhibitor, rapamycin (1 nmol/μL), abolished the behavioral effects of CBD. These results indicate that CBD induces fast and sustained antidepressant-like effect in distinct animal models relevant for depression. These effects may be related to rapid changes in synaptic plasticity in the mPFC through activation of the BDNF-TrkB signaling pathway. The data support a promising therapeutic profile for CBD as a new fast-acting antidepressant drug.

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The authors acknowledge Flávia Fiacadori Salata and Per Fuglsang Mikkelsen for their helpful technical assistance.

Funding and Disclosure

This work was supported by research grants from the Research Foundation of the State of São Paulo (FAPESP, A.J.S., grant number 2015/01955-0;2012/17626-7); the National Council of Science and Technology, Brazil (CNPq) and National Institute of Science and Translational Medicine (CNPq, 465458/2014-9); the Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (CAPES); and Aarhus University Research Foundation (AU-UDEAS initiative: eMOOD). Gregers Wegener reported having received lecture/consultancy fees from H. Lundbeck A/S, Servier SA, Astra Zeneca AB, Eli Lilly A/S, Sun Pharma Pty Ltd., Pfizer Inc., Shire A/S, HB Pharma A/S, Arla Foods A.m.b.A., Alkermes Inc., and Mundipharma International Ltd.

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Correspondence to Sâmia R. L. Joca.

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Sales, A.J., Fogaça, M.V., Sartim, A.G. et al. Cannabidiol Induces Rapid and Sustained Antidepressant-Like Effects Through Increased BDNF Signaling and Synaptogenesis in the Prefrontal Cortex. Mol Neurobiol 56, 1070–1081 (2019).

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  • Cannabidiol
  • Antidepressant
  • BDNF
  • Prefrontal cortex