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J Neurosci. 2019 Dec 2. pii: 1802-19. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1802-19.2019. [Epub ahead of print]

Serotonergic plasticity in the dorsal raphe nucleus characterizes susceptibility and resilience to anhedonia.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA.
Department of Psychiatry, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA


Chronic stress induces anhedonia in susceptible but not resilient individuals, a phenomenon observed in humans as well as animal models, but the molecular mechanisms underlying susceptibility and resilience are not well understood. We hypothesized that the serotonergic system, which is implicated in stress, reward and antidepressant therapy, may play a role. We found that plasticity of the serotonergic system contributes to the differential vulnerability to stress displayed by susceptible and resilient animals. Stress-induced anhedonia was assessed in adult male rats using social defeat and intracranial self-stimulation (ICSS), while changes in serotonergic phenotype were investigated using immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization. Susceptible, but not resilient, rats displayed an increased number of neurons expressing the biosynthetic enzyme for serotonin, tryptophan-hydroxylase-2 (TPH2), in the ventral subnucleus of the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRv). Further, a decrease in the number of DRv glutamatergic (VGLUT3+) neurons was observed in all stressed rats. This neurotransmitter plasticity is activity-dependent, as was revealed by chemogenetic manipulation of the central amygdala, a stress-sensitive nucleus that forms a major input to the DR. Activation of amygdalar corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH)+ neurons abolished the increase in DRv TPH2+ neurons and ameliorated stress-induced anhedonia in susceptible rats. These findings show that activation of amygdalar CRH+ neurons induces resilience, and suppresses the gain of serotonergic phenotype in the DR that is characteristic of susceptible rats. This molecular signature of vulnerability to stress-induced anhedonia and the active nature of resilience could be targeted to develop new treatments for stress-related disorders like depression.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENTDepression and other mental disorders can be induced by chronic or traumatic stressors. However, some individuals are resilient and do not develop depression in response to chronic stress. A complete picture of the molecular differences between susceptible and resilient individuals is necessary to understand how plasticity of limbic circuits is associated with the pathophysiology of stress-related disorders. Using a rodent model, our study identifies a novel molecular marker of susceptibility to stress-induced anhedonia, a core symptom of depression, and a means to modulate it. These findings will guide further investigation into cellular and circuit mechanisms of resilience, and the development of new treatments for depression.

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