The classical benzodiazepine diazepam (DZ) induces anxiolysis at low doses and sedation and hypnosis at higher doses. Different brain areas and neuronal populations most likely mediate these different behavioral effects. We used c-Fos immunohistochemistry as an indirect way to study neuronal activation or inhibition induced by DZ at anxiolytic and sedative doses (0.5 and 5 mg/kg, respectively) in various brain areas involved in anxiety, arousal, sedation and addiction in C57BL/6J mice. We also focused on the two neuronal populations, orexinergic and dopaminergic neuronal populations, with the help of double-immunohistochemistry using c-Fos and orexin-A antibodies and c-Fos and tyrosine hydroxylase antibodies. We found that different brain areas of unhabituated mice reacted differently to the mild stress induced by vehicle injection. Also the response to anxiolytic or sedative doses of DZ differed between the areas, suggesting that distinct brain areas mediate the behavioral effects of low and high DZ doses. Our findings propose a role for inhibition of orexin neurons in the anxiolytic and sleep-promoting effects of DZ. In addition, the activation of central amygdala neurons by DZ treatment was associated with anxiolytic and sedative effects. On the other hand, the ventral hippocampus, basolateral amygdala, ventral tegmental area and prefrontal cortex were sensitive even to the mild injection stress, but not to the anxiolytic dose of DZ.Highlights
▸ Diazepam induces anxiolysis at a low dose and sedation at a high dose. ▸ c-Fos in various brain areas after anxiolytic and sedative doses of diazepam. ▸ Role for orexinergic neurons in anxiolytic and sedative effects of diazepam. ▸ Differences between dorsal and ventral hippocampus in stress-induced c-Fos expression.