Role of the vasopressin 1b receptor in rodent aggressive behavior and synaptic plasticity in hippocampal area CA2

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Abstract

The vasopressin 1b receptor (Avpr1b) is critical for social memory and social aggression in rodents, yet little is known about its specific roles in these behaviors. Some clues to Avpr1b function can be gained from its profile of expression in the brain, which is largely limited to the pyramidal neurons of the CA2 region of the hippocampus, and from experiments showing that inactivation of the gene or antagonism of the receptor leads to a reduction in social aggression. Here we show that partial replacement of the Avpr1b through lentiviral delivery into the dorsal CA2 region restored the probability of socially motivated attack behavior in total Avpr1b knockout mice, without altering anxiety-like behaviors. To further explore the role of the Avpr1b in this hippocampal region, we examined the effects of Avpr1b agonists on pyramidal neurons in mouse and rat hippocampal slices. We found that selective Avpr1b agonists induced significant potentiation of excitatory synaptic responses in CA2, but not in CA1 or in slices from Avpr1b knockout mice. In a way that is mechanistically very similar to synaptic potentiation induced by oxytocin, Avpr1b agonist-induced potentiation of CA2 synapses relies on NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartic acid) receptor activation, calcium and calcium/calmodulindependent protein kinase II activity, but not on cAMP-dependent protein kinase activity or presynaptic mechanisms. Our data indicate that the hippocampal CA2 is important for attacking in response to a male intruder and that the Avpr1b, likely through its role in regulating CA2 synaptic plasticity, is a necessary mediator.

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