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Neuroscience. 2007 May 11;146(2):756-72. Epub 2007 Mar 23.

Identification of an immune-responsive mesolimbocortical serotonergic system: potential role in regulation of emotional behavior.

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1
Henry Wellcome Laboratories for Integrative Neuroscience and Endocrinology, University of Bristol, Dorothy Hodgkin Building, Bristol BS1 3NY, UK. c.a.lowry@bristol.ac.uk

Abstract

Peripheral immune activation can have profound physiological and behavioral effects including induction of fever and sickness behavior. One mechanism through which immune activation or immunomodulation may affect physiology and behavior is via actions on brainstem neuromodulatory systems, such as serotonergic systems. We have found that peripheral immune activation with antigens derived from the nonpathogenic, saprophytic bacterium, Mycobacterium vaccae, activated a specific subset of serotonergic neurons in the interfascicular part of the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRI) of mice, as measured by quantification of c-Fos expression following intratracheal (12 h) or s.c. (6 h) administration of heat-killed, ultrasonically disrupted M. vaccae, or heat-killed, intact M. vaccae, respectively. These effects were apparent after immune activation by M. vaccae or its components but not by ovalbumin, which induces a qualitatively different immune response. The effects of immune activation were associated with increases in serotonin metabolism within the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, consistent with an effect of immune activation on mesolimbocortical serotonergic systems. The effects of M. vaccae administration on serotonergic systems were temporally associated with reductions in immobility in the forced swim test, consistent with the hypothesis that the stimulation of mesolimbocortical serotonergic systems by peripheral immune activation alters stress-related emotional behavior. These findings suggest that the immune-responsive subpopulation of serotonergic neurons in the DRI is likely to play an important role in the neural mechanisms underlying regulation of the physiological and pathophysiological responses to both acute and chronic immune activation, including regulation of mood during health and disease states. Together with previous studies, these findings also raise the possibility that immune stimulation activates a functionally and anatomically distinct subset of serotonergic neurons, different from the subset of serotonergic neurons activated by anxiogenic stimuli or uncontrollable stressors. Consequently, selective activation of specific subsets of serotonergic neurons may have distinct behavioral outcomes.

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