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Hippocampus. 2009 Sep;19(9):828-36. doi: 10.1002/hipo.20566.

Corticosterone reduces dendritic complexity in developing hippocampal CA1 neurons.

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  • 1Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences, Center for Neuroscience, Universiteit van Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Although prolonged stress and corticosteroid exposure induce morphological changes in the hippocampal CA3 area, the adult CA1 area is quite resistant to such changes. Here we addressed the question whether elevated corticosteroid hormone levels change dendritic complexity in young, developing CA1 cells. In organotypic cultures (prepared from P5 rats) that were 14-21 days cultured in vitro, two doses of corticosterone (30 and 100 nM) were tested. Dendritic morphology of CA1 neurons was established by imaging neurons filled with the fluorescent dye Alexa. Application of 100 nM corticosterone for 20 minutes induced atrophy of the apical dendritic tree 1-4 hours later. Fractal analysis showed that total neuronal complexity was reduced twofold when compared with vehicle-treated neurons. Exposing organotypic slices to 30 nM corticosterone reduced apical length in a more delayed manner: only neurons examined more than 2 hours after exposure to corticosterone showed atrophy of the apical dendritic tree. Neither dose of corticosterone affected the length of basal dendrites or spine density. Corticosterone was ineffective in changing morphology of the apical dendrites when tested in the presence of the glucocorticoid receptor antagonist RU38486. These results suggest that high physiological levels of corticosterone, via activation of the glucocorticoid receptor, can, during the course of only a few hours, reduce the dendritic complexity of CA1 pyramidal neurons in young, developing hippocampal tissue. These findings suggest that it is relevant to maintain plasma corticosterone levels low during hippocampal development.

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