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Transl Psychiatry. 2015 Nov 3;5:e671. doi: 10.1038/tp.2015.168.

A requirement of serotonergic p38α mitogen-activated protein kinase for peripheral immune system activation of CNS serotonin uptake and serotonin-linked behaviors.

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Department of Pharmacology, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, TN, USA.
Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, TN, USA.
Department of Neuroscience, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH, USA.
Institute for Psychiatric Neuroscience, Nashville, TN, USA.
Department of Psychiatry, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, TN, USA.


Alterations in central serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine, 5-HT) neurotransmission and peripheral immune activation have been linked to multiple neuropsychiatric disorders, including depression, schizophrenia and autism. The antidepressant-sensitive 5-HT transporter (SERT, SLC6A4), a critical determinant of synaptic 5-HT inactivation, can be regulated by pro-inflammatory cytokine signaling. Systemic innate immune system activation via intraperitoneal lipopolysaccharide (LPS) injection rapidly elevates brain SERT activity and 5-HT clearance. Moreover, the pro-inflammatory cytokine interleukin (IL)-1β rapidly stimulates SERT activity in raphe nerve terminal preparations ex vivo, effects that are attenuated by pharmacological p38 MAPK inhibition. To establish a role of serotonergic p38α MAPK signaling in LPS/IL-1β-induced SERT regulation and attendant behavioral responses, we pursued studies in mice that afford conditional elimination of p38α MAPK in 5-HT neurons (p38α(5HT-)). We found p38α(5HT-) and control (p38α(5HT+)) littermates to be indistinguishable in viability and growth and to express equivalent levels of SERT protein and synaptosomal 5-HT transport activity. Consistent with pharmacological studies, however, IL-1β fails to increase SERT activity in midbrain synaptosomes prepared from p38α(5HT-) animals. Moreover, although LPS elevated plasma corticosterone and central/peripheral pro-inflammatory cytokines in p38α(5HT-) animals, elevations in midbrain SERT activity were absent nor were changes in depressive and anxiety-like behaviors observed. Our studies support an obligate role of p38α MAPK signaling in 5-HT neurons for the translation of immune activation to SERT regulation and 5-HT-modulated behaviors.

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