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Front Behav Neurosci. 2011 Nov 2;5:72. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2011.00072. eCollection 2011.

Social Defeat during Adolescence and Adulthood Differentially Induce BDNF-Regulated Immediate Early Genes.

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Department of Behavioural Physiology, University of Groningen Groningen, Netherlands.


Stressful life events generally enhance the vulnerability for the development of human psychopathologies such as anxiety disorders and depression. The incidence rates of adult mental disorders steeply rises during adolescence in parallel with a structural and functional reorganization of the neural circuitry underlying stress reactivity. However, the mechanisms underlying susceptibility to stress and manifestation of mental disorders during adolescence are little understood. We hypothesized that heightened sensitivity to stress during adolescence reflects age-dependent differences in the expression of activity-dependent genes involved in synaptic plasticity. Therefore, we compared the effect of social stress during adolescence with social stress in adulthood on the expression of a panel of genes linked to induction of long-term potentiation (LTP) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) signaling. We show that social defeat during adolescence and adulthood differentially regulates expression of the immediate early genes BDNF, Arc, Carp, and Tieg1, as measured by qPCR in tissue lysates from prefrontal cortex, nucleus accumbens, and hippocampus. In the hippocampus, mRNA levels for all four genes were robustly elevated following social defeat in adolescence, whereas none were induced by defeat in adulthood. The relationship to coping style was also examined using adult reactive and proactive coping rats. Gene expression levels of reactive and proactive animals were similar in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. However, a trend toward a differential expression of BDNF and Arc mRNA in the nucleus accumbens was detected. BDNF mRNA was increased in the nucleus accumbens of proactive defeated animals, whereas the expression level in reactive defeated animals was comparable to control animals. The results demonstrate striking differences in immediate early gene expression in response to social defeat in adolescent and adult rats.


BDNF; adolescence; hippocampus; mesocorticolimbic system; rat; social defeat; stress; synaptic plasticity

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