In humans, depression is often triggered by prolonged exposure to psychosocial stressors and is often associated with cardiovascular comorbidity. Mounting evidence suggests a role for endocannabinoid signaling in the regulation of both emotional behavior and cardiovascular function. Here, we examined cardiac activity in a rodent model of social stress-induced depression and investigated whether pharmacological inhibition of the enzyme fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), which terminates signaling of the endocannabinoid anandamide, exerts antidepressant-like and cardioprotective effects. Male Wistar Kyoto rats were exposed to five weeks of repeated social stress or control procedure. Starting from the third week, they received daily administration of the selective FAAH inhibitor URB694 (0.1mg/kg, i.p.) or vehicle. Cardiac electrical activity was recorded by radiotelemetry. Repeated social stress triggered biological and behavioral changes that mirror symptoms of human depression, such as (i) reductions in body weight gain and sucrose solution preference, (ii) hyperactivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis, and (iii) increased immobility in the forced swim test. Moreover, stressed rats showed (i) alterations in heart rate daily rhythm and cardiac autonomic neural regulation, (ii) a larger incidence of spontaneous arrhythmias, and (iii) signs of cardiac hypertrophy. Daily treatment with URB694 (i) increased central and peripheral anandamide levels, (ii) corrected stress-induced alterations of biological and behavioral parameters, and (iii) protected the heart against the adverse effects of social stress. Repeated social stress in Wistar Kyoto rats reproduces aspects of human depression/cardiovascular comorbidity. Pharmacological enhancement of anandamide signaling might be a promising strategy for the treatment of these comorbid conditions.
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