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Neuroscience. 2004;124(2):429-38.

Chronic corticosterone affects brain weight, and mitochondrial, but not glial volume fraction in hippocampal area CA3.

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Program in Neurobiology and Behavior, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, NY 11794, USA.


Corticosterone (CORT), the predominant glucocorticoid in rodents, is known to damage hippocampal area CA3. Here we investigate how that damage is represented at the cellular and ultrastructural level of analyses. Rats were injected with CORT (26.8 mg/kg, s.c.) or vehicle for 56 days. Cell counts were estimated with the physical disector method. Glial and mitochondrial volume fractions were obtained from electron micrographs. The effectiveness of the CORT dose used was demonstrated in two ways. First, CORT significantly inhibited body weight gain relative to vehicles. Second, CORT significantly reduced adrenal gland, heart and gastrocnemius muscle weight. Both the adrenal and gastrocnemius muscle weight to body weight ratios were also significantly reduced. Although absolute brain weight was reduced, the brain to body weight ratio was higher in the CORT group relative to vehicles, suggesting that the brain is more resistant to the effects of CORT than many peripheral organs and muscles. Consistent with that interpretation, CORT did not alter CA3 cell density, cell layer volume, or apical dendritic neuropil volume. Likewise, CORT did not significantly alter glial volume fraction, but did reduce mitochondrial volume fraction. These findings highlight the need for ultrastructural analyses in addition to cellular level analyses before conclusions can be drawn about the damaging effects of prolonged CORT elevations. The relative reduction in mitochondria may indicate a reduction in bioenergetic capacity that, in turn, could render CA3 vulnerable to metabolic challenges.

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