Chronic Stress Induces Sex-Specific Functional and Morphological Alterations in Corticoaccumbal and Corticotegmental Pathways.

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Biol Psychiatry, Volume 90, Issue 3, p.194-205 (2021)


Animals, Female, Male, Mice, Mice, Inbred C57BL, Neurons, Nucleus Accumbens, Prefrontal Cortex, Ventral Tegmental Area


<p><b>BACKGROUND: </b>The medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) is part of a complex circuit controlling stress responses by sending projections to different limbic structures including the nucleus accumbens (NAc) and ventral tegmental area (VTA). However, the impact of chronic stress on NAc- and VTA-projecting mPFC neurons is still unknown, and the distinct contribution of these pathways to stress responses in males and females is unclear.</p><p><b>METHODS: </b>Behavioral stress responses were induced by 21 days of chronic variable stress in male and female C57BL/6NCrl mice. An intersectional viral approach was used to label both pathways and assess the functional, morphological, and transcriptional adaptations in NAc- and VTA-projecting mPFC neurons in stressed males and females. Using chemogenetic approaches, we modified neuronal activity of NAc-projecting mPFC neurons to decipher their contribution to stress phenotypes.</p><p><b>RESULTS: </b>Chronic variable stress induced depressive-like behaviors in males and females. NAc- and VTA-projecting mPFC neurons exhibited sex-specific functional, morphological, and transcriptional alterations. The functional changes were more severe in females in NAc-projecting mPFC neurons, while males exhibited more drastic reductions in dendritic complexity in VTA-projecting mPFC neurons after chronic variable stress. Finally, chemogenetic overactivation of the corticoaccumbal pathway triggered anxiety and behavioral despair in both sexes, while its inhibition rescued the phenotype only in females.</p><p><b>CONCLUSIONS: </b>Our results suggest that stress responses in males and females result from pathway-specific changes in the activity of transcriptional programs controlling the morphological and synaptic properties of corticoaccumbal and corticotegmental pathways in a sex-specific fashion.</p>

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