Depression and adult neurogenesis: Positive effects of the antidepressant fluoxetine and of physical exercise

Laura Micheli, Manuela Ceccarelli, Giorgio D'Andrea, Felice Tirone

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Of wide interest for health is the relation existing between depression, a very common psychological illness, accompanied by anxiety and reduced ability to concentrate, and adult neurogenesis. We will focus on two neurogenic stimuli, fluoxetine and physical exercise, both endowed with the ability to activate adult neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus, known to be required for learning and memory, and both able to counteract depression. Fluoxetine belongs to the class of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants, which represent the most used pharmacological therapy; physical exercise has also been shown to effectively counteract depression symptoms in rodents as well as in humans. While there is evidence that the antidepressant effect of fluoxetine requires its pro-neurogenic action, exerted by promoting proliferation, differentiation and survival of progenitor cells of the hippocampus, on the other hand fluoxetine exerts also neurogenesis-independent antidepressant effects by influencing the plasticity of the new neurons generated. Similarly, the antidepressant action of running also correlates with an increase of hippocampal neurogenesis and plasticity, although the gene pathways involved are only partially coincident with those of fluoxetine, such as those involved in serotonin metabolism and synapse formation. We further discuss how extra-neurogenic actions are also suggested by the fact that, unlike running, fluoxetine is unable to stimulate neurogenesis during aging, but still displays antidepressant effects. Moreover, in specific conditions, fluoxetine or running activate not only progenitor but also stem cells, which normally are not stimulated; this fact reveals how stem cells have a long-term, hidden ability to self-renew and, more generally, that neurogenesis is subject to complex controls that may play a role in depression, such as the type of neurogenic stimulus or the state of the local niche. Finally, we discuss how fluoxetine or running are effective in counteracting depression originated from stress or neurodegenerative diseases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181-193
Number of pages13
JournalBrain Research Bulletin
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1 2018


  • Adult neurogenesis
  • Depression
  • Fluoxetine
  • Neural stem cells
  • Neurogenic stimuli
  • Running

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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