Desmosterol and 7-dehydrocholesterol concentrations in post mortem brains of depressed people: The role of trazodone

Basar Cenik, Jayme M. Palka, Bonne M. Thompson, Jeffrey G. McDonald, Carol A. Tamminga, Can Cenik*, E. Sherwood Brown*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a common, disabling, and heterogeneous condition that responds unpredictably to current treatments. We previously showed an association between depressive symptoms and plasma concentrations of two cholesterol precursors, desmosterol and 7-dehydrocholesterol (7DHC). Here, we measured total cholesterol and sterol concentrations with mass spectrometry in postmortem brain samples from depressed and control subjects. Mean (±SEM) desmosterol concentration was 8.9 ± 0.97 ng/mg in the depressed versus 10.7 ± 0.72 ng/mg in the control group. The mean of the posterior probability distribution for the difference in desmosterol concentration between the two groups was 2.36 (95% highest density interval [HDI] 0.59–4.17). Mean 7DHC concentrations, 12.5 ± 4.1 ng/mg in the depressed versus 5.4 ± 0.74 ng/mg in the control group, were unlikely to be different (95% HDI, [−1.37–0.34]). We found that presence of trazodone in the peri-mortem toxicology screen accounted for the observed difference in desmosterol concentrations. We also observed extremely high 7DHC levels in all 4 subjects who had taken trazodone. Trazodone has been recently found to inhibit 7-dehydrocholesterol reductase and alter sterol concentrations in rodents, cell culture, human fibroblasts, and blood. In this study, we demonstrate for the first time that trazodone alters human brain sterol composition. Given congenital deficiency of 7-dehydrocholesterol reductase results in Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome, our findings support the hypothesis that this commonly used medication may have previously unappreciated risks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number139
JournalTranslational psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry


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