Chronic-stress-induced behavioral changes associated with subregion-selective serotonin cell death in the dorsal raphe

Reka Natarajan, Laura Forrester, Nicolas L. Chiaia, Bryan Yamamoto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

12 Scopus citations


The current study examined the neurochemical mechanisms and neuroanatomical changes underlying coexisting behavioral effects associated with chronic-stress-induced alterations in serotonin (5HT) neurons. Chronic unpredictable stress (CUS) to adult male rats produced depression-like changes with cognitive dysfunction and selective cell death in the interfascicular nucleus of the dorsal raphe (DRif), resulting in decreased 5HTergic innervation of medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). Twenty-one days of CUS decreased basal plasma levels of corticosterone and produced a shorter latency to immobility and longer durations of immobility in the force-swim test that persisted for 1 month after CUS. Deficits in acquisition, recall, perseveration, and reversal learning were evident 1 month after CUS. MK801 treatment during CUS blocked the changes in the forced-swim test and deficits in memory recall. These behavioral changes were associated with terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase dUTP nick end labeling (TUNEL)-positive soma and the eventual loss of 5HT neurons in the DRif and its projections to the mPFC as evidenced by fewer labeled cells in the DRif after retrograde tracer injections into the mPFC of stressed rats. Similar to the effects of MK801 on behavior, MK801 pretreatment during stress blocked the CUS-induced decreases in 5HT soma within the DRif and its projections to the mPFC. Finally, the depression-like behaviors were blocked by acute injection of the 5HT2A/C agonist (-)-2,5-dimethoxy-4-iodoamphetamine hydrochloride into the mPFC before forced-swim testing. These results identify a cause and mechanism of 5HTergic dysfunction of the mPFC and associated mood and cognitive behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6214-6223
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number26
StatePublished - 2017


  • Chronic stress
  • Frontal cortex
  • Raphe
  • Serotonin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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