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Neurobiol Dis. 2013 Feb;50:96-106. doi: 10.1016/j.nbd.2012.10.009. Epub 2012 Oct 12.

Function and innervation of the locus ceruleus in a macaque model of Functional Hypothalamic Amenorrhea.

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Division of Reproductive Sciences, Oregon National Primate Research Center, Beaverton, OR 97006, USA.


A body of knowledge implicates an increase in output from the locus ceruleus (LC) during stress. We questioned the innervation and function of the LC in our macaque model of Functional Hypothalamic Amenorrhea, also known as Stress-Induced Amenorrhea. Cohorts of macaques were initially characterized as highly stress resilient (HSR) or stress-sensitive (SS) based upon the presence or absence of ovulation during a protocol involving 2 menstrual cycles with psychosocial and metabolic stress. Afterwards, the animals were rested until normal menstrual cycles resumed and then euthanized on day 5 of a new menstrual cycle [a] in the absence of further stress; or [b] after 5 days of resumed psychosocial and metabolic stress. In this study, parameters of the LC were examined in HSR and SS animals in the presence and absence of stress (2×2 block design) using ICC and image analysis. Tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) is the rate-limiting enzyme for the synthesis of catecholamines; and the TH level was used to assess by inference, NE output. The pixel area of TH-positive dendrites extending outside the medial border of the LC was significantly increased by stress to a similar degree in both HSR and SS animals (p<0.0001). There is a significant CRF innervation of the LC. The positive pixel area of CRF boutons, lateral to the LC, was higher in SS than HSR animals in the absence of stress. Five days of moderate stress significantly increased the CRF-positive bouton pixel area in the HSR group (p<0.02), but not in the SS group. There is also a significant serotonin innervation of the LC. A marked increase in medial serotonin dendrite swelling and beading was observed in the SS+stress group, which may be a consequence of excitotoxicity. The dendrite beading interfered with analysis of axonal boutons. However, at one anatomical level, the serotonin-positive bouton area was obtained between the LC and the superior cerebellar peduncle. Serotonin-positive bouton pixel area was significantly higher in HSR than SS animals (p<0.04). There was no change in either group after 5 days of moderate stress. The ratio of serotonin/TH correlates with ovarian estrogen production with a sensitivity×stress interaction. Therefore, it appears that the serotonin system determines stress sensitivity and the NE system responds to stress. We hypothesize that elevated NE with low serotonin functionality ultimately leads to stress-induced infertility. In contrast, high serotonin functionality maintains ovulation in the presence of stress even with elevated NE.

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