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Histochem Cell Biol. 2013 Feb;139(2):267-81. doi: 10.1007/s00418-012-1029-x. Epub 2012 Oct 11.

GABA concentration and GABAergic neuron populations in limbic areas are differentially altered by brain serotonin deficiency in Tph2 knockout mice.

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  • 1Laboratory of Translational Neuroscience, Division of Molecular Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, Psychosomatics, and Psychotherapy, University of Wuerzburg, Fuechsleinstrasse 15, 97080 Wuerzburg, Germany.


While tryptophan hydroxylase-2 (Tph2) null mutant (Tph2(-/-)) mice are completely deficient in brain serotonin (5-HT) synthesis, the formation of serotonergic neurons and pathfinding of their projections are not impaired. However, 5-HT deficiency, during development and in the adult, might affect morphological and functional parameters of other neural systems. To assess the influence of 5-HT deficiency on γ-amino butyric acid (GABA) systems, we carried out measurements of GABA concentrations in limbic brain regions of adult male wildtype (wt), heterozygous (Tph2(+/-)) and Tph2(-/-) mice. In addition, unbiased stereological estimation of GABAergic interneuron numbers and density was performed in subregions of amygdala and hippocampus. Amygdala and prefrontal cortex displayed significantly increased and decreased GABA concentrations, respectively, exclusively in Tph2(+/-) mice while no changes were detected between Tph2(-/-) and wt mice. In contrast, in the hippocampus, increased GABA concentrations were found in Tph2(-/-) mice. While total cell density in the anterior basolateral amygdala did not differ between genotypes, the number and density of the GABAergic interneurons were significantly decreased in Tph2(-/-) mice, with the group of parvalbumin (PV)-immunoreactive (ir) interneurons contributing somewhat less to the decrease than that of non-PV-ir GABAergic interneurons. Major morphological changes were also absent in the dorsal hippocampus, and only a trend toward reduced density of PV-ir cells was observed in the CA3 region of Tph2(-/-) mice. Our findings are the first to document that life-long reduction or complete lack of brain 5-HT transmission causes differential changes of GABA systems in limbic regions which are key players in emotional learning and memory processes. The changes likely reflect a combination of developmental alterations and functional adaptations of emotion circuits to balance the lack of 5-HT, and may underlie altered emotional behavior in 5-HT-deficient mice. Taken together, our findings provide further insight into the mechanisms how life-long 5-HT deficiency impacts the pathogenesis of anxiety- and fear-related disorders.

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