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J Comp Neurol. 2005 Nov 28;492(4):426-41.

The anxiogenic drug yohimbine activates central viscerosensory circuits in rats.

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Department of Neuroscience, University of Pittsburgh, PA 15260, USA.


Systemic administration of the alpha(2)-adrenoceptor antagonist yohimbine (YO) activates the HPA stress axis and promotes anxiety in humans and experimental animals. We propose that visceral malaise contributes to the stressful and anxiogenic effects of systemic YO and that YO recruits brainstem noradrenergic (NA) and peptidergic neurons that relay viscerosensory signals to the hypothalamus and limbic forebrain. To begin testing these hypotheses, the present study explored dose-related effects of YO on food intake, conditioned flavor avoidance (CFA), and Fos immunolabeling in rats. Systemic YO (5.0 mg/kg BW, i.p.) inhibited food intake, supported CFA, and increased Fos immunolabeling in identified NA neurons in the ventrolateral medulla, nucleus of the solitary tract, and locus coeruleus. YO also increased Fos in the majority of corticotropin releasing hormone-positive neurons in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus. YO administered at 1.0 mg/kg BW did not inhibit food intake, did not support CFA, and did not increase Fos immunolabeling. Retrograde neural tracing demonstrated that neurons activated by YO at 5.0 mg/kg BW included medullary and pontine neurons that project to the central nucleus of the amygdala and to the lateral bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, the latter region receiving comparatively greater input by Fos-positive neurons. We conclude that YO produces anorexigenic and aversive effects that correlate with activation of brainstem viscerosensory inputs to the limbic forebrain. These findings invite continued investigation of how central viscerosensory signaling pathways interact with hypothalamic and limbic regions to influence interrelated physiological and behavioral components of anxiety, stress, and visceral malaise.

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