Repeated social stress leads to contrasting patterns of structural plasticity in the amygdala and hippocampus

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Abstract

Previous studies have demonstrated that repeated immobilization and restraint stress cause contrasting patterns of dendritic reorganization as well as alterations in spine density in amygdalar and hippocampal neurons. Whether social and ethologically relevant stressors can induce similar patterns of morphological plasticity remains largely unexplored. Hence, we assessed the effects of repeated social defeat stress on neuronal morphology in basolateral amygdala (BLA), hippocampal CA1 and infralimbic medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). Male Wistar rats experienced social defeat stress on 5 consecutive days during confrontation in the resident-intruder paradigm with larger and aggressive Wild-type Groningen rats. This resulted in clear social avoidance behavior one day after the last confrontation. To assess the morphological consequences of repeated social defeat, 2 weeks after the last defeat, animals were sacrificed and brains were stained using a Golgi-Cox procedure. Morphometric analyses revealed that, compared to controls, defeated Wistar rats showed apical dendritic decrease in spine density on CA1 but not BLA. Sholl analysis demonstrated a significant dendritic atrophy of CA1 basal dendrites in defeated animals. In contrast, basal dendrites of BLA pyramidal neurons exhibited enhanced dendritic arborization in defeated animals. Social stress failed to induce lasting structural changes in mPFC neurons. Our findings demonstrate for the first time that social defeat stress elicits divergent patterns of structural plasticity in the hippocampus versus amygdala, similar to what has previously been reported with repeated physical stressors. Therefore, brain region specific variations may be a universal feature of stress-induced plasticity that is shared by both physical and social stressors.

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