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J Neurosci. 2011 Feb 23;31(8):2756-68. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4080-10.2011.

A genetically defined morphologically and functionally unique subset of 5-HT neurons in the mouse raphe nuclei.

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Inserm, UMR-S 839, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, and Institut du Fer à Moulin, 75005 Paris, France.


Heterogeneity of central serotonin (5-HT) raphe neurons is suggested by numerous lines of evidence, but its genetic basis remains elusive. The transcription factor Pet1 is required for the acquisition of serotonergic identity in a majority of neurons in the raphe nuclei. Nevertheless, a subset of 5-HT neurons differentiates in Pet1 knock-out mice. We show here that these residual 5-HT neurons outline a unique subpopulation of raphe neurons with highly selective anatomical targets and characteristic synaptic differentiations. In Pet1 knock-out mice, 5-HT innervation strikingly outlines the brain areas involved in stress responses with dense innervation to the basolateral amygdala, the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus, and the intralaminar thalamic nuclei. In these regions, 5-HT terminals establish asymmetric synaptic junctions. This target selectivity could not be related to altered growth of the remaining 5-HT neurons, as indicated by axon tracing and cell culture analyses. The residual 5-HT axon terminals are functional with maintained release properties in vitro and in vivo. The functional consequence of this uneven distribution of 5-HT innervation on behavior was characterized. Pet1 knock-out mice showed decreased anxiety behavior in novelty exploration and increased fear responses to conditioned aversive cues. Overall, our findings lead us to propose the existence of Pet1-dependent and Pet1-resistant 5-HT neurons targeting different brain centers that might delineate the anatomical basis for a dual serotonergic control on stress responses.

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