Noradrenergic Alpha-2 Receptor Modulators in the Ventral Bed Nucleus of the Stria Terminalis: Effects on Anxiety Behavior in Postpartum and Virgin Female Rats

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Emotional hyperreactivity can inhibit maternal responsiveness in female rats and other animals. Maternal behavior in postpartum rats is disrupted by increasing norepinephrine release in the ventral bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BSTv) with the α2-autoreceptor antagonist, yohimbine, or the more selective α2-autoreceptor antagonist, idazoxan (Smith et al., 2012). Because high noradrenergic activity in the BSTv can also increase anxiety-related behaviors, increased anxiety may underlie the disrupted mothering of dams given yohimbine or idazoxan. To assess this possibility, anxiety-related behaviors in an elevated plus maze were assessed in postpartum rats after administration of yohimbine or idazoxan. It was further assessed if the α2-autoreceptor agonist clonidine (which decreases norepinephrine release) would, conversely, reduce dams’ anxiety. Groups of diestrous virgins were also examined. It was found that peripheral or intra-BSTv yohimbine did increase anxiety-related behavior in postpartum females. However, BSTv infusion of idazoxan did not reproduce yohimbine’s anxiogenic effects and anxiety was not reduced by peripheral or intra-BSTv clonidine. Because yohimbine is a weak 5HT1A receptor agonist, other groups of females received BSTv infusion of the 5HT1A receptor agonist 8OH-DPAT, but it did not alter their anxiety-related behavior. Lastly, levels of norepinephrine and serotonin in tissue punches from the BSTv did not differ between postpartum and diestrous rats, but serotonin turnover was lower in mothers. These results suggest that the impaired maternal behavior after BSTv infusion of yohimbine or idazoxan cannot both be readily explained by an increase in dams’ anxiety, and that BSTv α2-autoreceptor modulation alone has little influence on anxiety-related behaviors in postpartum or diestrous rats.

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