Tryptophan (TRP) is metabolized via the kynurenine (KYN) pathway, which is related to the pathogenesis of major depressive disorder (MDD). Kynurenine 3-monooxygenase (KMO) is a pivotal enzyme in the metabolism of KYN to 3-hydroxykynurenine. In rodents, KMO deficiency induces a depression-like behavior and increases the levels of kynurenic acid (KA), a KYN metabolite formed by kynurenine aminotransferases (KATs). KA antagonizes α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (α7nAChR). Here, we investigated the involvement of KA in depression-like behavior in KMO knockout (KO) mice. KYN, KA, and anthranilic acid but not TRP or 3-hydroxyanthranilic acid were elevated in the prefrontal cortex of KMO KO mice. The mRNA levels of KAT1 and α7nAChR but not KAT2−4, α4nAChR, or β2nAChR were elevated in the prefrontal cortex of KMO KO mice. Nicotine blocked increase in locomotor activity, decrease in social interaction time, and prolonged immobility in a forced swimming test, but it did not decrease sucrose preference in the KMO KO mice. Methyllycaconitine (an α7nAChR antagonist) antagonized the effect of nicotine on decreased social interaction time and prolonged immobility in the forced swimming test, but not increased locomotor activity. Galantamine (an α7nAChR allosteric agonist) blocked the increased locomotor activity and prolonged immobility in the forced swimming test, but not the decreased social interaction time in the KMO KO mice. In conclusion, elevation of KA levels contributes to depression-like behaviors in KMO KO mice by α7nAChR antagonism. The ameliorating effects of nicotine and galantamine on depression-like behaviors in KMO KO mice are associated with the activation of α7nAChR.
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