Ciliary Neurotrophic Factor Is a Key Sex-Specific Regulator of Depressive-Like Behavior in Mice

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Ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF) is produced by astrocytes and promotes neurogenesis and neuroprotection. Little is known about the role of CNTF in affective behavior. We investigated whether CNTF affects depressive- and anxiety-like behavior in adult mice as tested in the forced swim, sucrose preference and elevated-T maze tests. Female wild type CNTF+/+ mice more readily developed behavioral despair with increased immobility time and decreased latency to immobility in the forced swim test than male CNTF+/+ littermates. The lack of CNTF in CNTF-/- mice had an opposite effect on depressive-like behavior in female mice (reduced immobility time and increased sucrose preference) vs. male mice (increased immobility time). Female wildtype mice expressed more CNTF in the amygdala than male mice. Ovariectomy increased CNTF expression, as well as immobility time, which was significantly reduced in CNTF-/- mice, suggesting that CNTF mediates overiectomy-induced immobility time, possibly in the amygdala. Progesterone but not 17-β estradiol inhibited CNTF expression in cultured C6 astroglioma cells. Progesterone treatment also reduced CNTF expression in the amygdala and decreased immobility time in female CNTF+/+ but not in CNTF-/- mice. Castration did not alter CNTF expression in males nor their behavior. Lastly, there were no effects of CNTF on the elevated T-maze, a behavioral test of anxiety, suggesting that a different mechanism may underlie anxiety-like behavior. This study reveals a novel CNTF-mediated mechanism in stress-induced depressive-like behavior and points to opportunities for sex-specific treatments for depression, e.g. progesterone in females and CNTF-stimulating drugs in males.