Purpose: To investigate the therapeutic effect of electroacupuncture (EA) on chronic and unpredictable mild stress (CUMS)-induced depression in mice and the underlying mechanism.

Methods: Male C57BL/6 mice were randomly divided into 6 groups: Control, CUMS, CUMS+EA-placebo, CUMS+EA, CUMS+ ad-NC, CUMS+ ad-cGAS-shRNA. CUMS was utilized to establish the depression model in mice. The behavioral changes were determined by the forced swimming, open field, and sucrose preference experiments. The pathological changes in the hippocampus tissue were evaluated by HE staining. The release of TNF-α, IL-1β, IL-6, 5-HT, and NE in the hippocampus tissue was determined by ELISA. IBA-1 expression detected by the immunofluorescence was used to represent the activity of microglia. Western blot and RT-PCR were utilized to measure the expression of Bax, bcl-2, cGAS, STING, TBK1, IRF3, and NLRP3.

Results: The depression behavior in CUMS mice was significantly alleviated by the treatment of EA and cGAS-shRNA, accompanied by ameliorated hippocampus pathological changes, declined production of TNF-α, IL-1β, and IL-6, elevated secretion of 5-HT and NE, and inhibition on the activity of microglia. Furthermore, significantly elevated expression level of Bax, cGAS, STING, TBK1, IRF3, and NLRP3 and declined expression level of bcl-2 were observed in the CUMS+EA and CUMS+ ad-cGAS-shRNA groups.

Conclusions: EA significantly mitigated the symptom of depression in mice, which was closely associated with the repressed neuroinflammation, increased monoamine concentration, inactivated microglia, and inhibited cGAS-STING-NLRP3 signaling.