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Behav Brain Res. 2007 Sep 4;182(2):290-300. Epub 2007 Mar 25.

Social defeat, a paradigm of depression in rats that elicits 22-kHz vocalizations, preferentially activates the cholinergic signaling pathway in the periaqueductal gray.

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Department of Biomedical Engineering, Falk Center for Molecular Therapeutics, McCormick School of Engineering, Northwestern University, 1801 Maple Ave. Suite 4300, Evanston, IL 60201, USA.


Gene expression profiles in the periaqueductal gray (PAG) of adult Long-Evans rats as a function of a stressful social defeat in inter-male fighting encounters were examined. This social subordination model mimics prototypical behavioral changes that parallel aspects of clinical depression, has been postulated to simulate early changes in the onset of depression in the losers, and has been successfully utilized for the evaluation of antidepressant activity. The 22-kHz ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs) have been shown to reflect negative emotional states akin to anxiety and depression. Social defeat is the most robust and reliable method of eliciting these calls. The PAG has been shown to be a key brain region for the generation of 22-kHz ultrasonic vocalizations, and 22-kHz USVs have been shown to be controlled by the mesolimbic cholinergic system. In this present study, we examined gene expression changes in the PAG of social subordinate rats compared to dominant rats that do not Exhibit 22-kHz USVs. We found that social defeat significantly altered the genes associated with cholinergic synaptic transmission in the PAG. The most robust of these were the increased expression of the beta2 subunit of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (CHRNB2) and the T subunit of acetylcholinesterase (ACHE) in the subordinate animals. These changes were corroborated by quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR) and found to be exclusive to the PAG compared to seven other brain regions examined. These data suggest that cholinergic transmission in the PAG is involved in the generation of 22-kHz USVs and provide potential therapeutic targets for the treatment of affective disorders.

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