5-HT1A receptor activation reduces fear-related behavior following social defeat in Syrian hamsters

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Abstract

Social defeat leads to selective avoidance of familiar opponents as well as general avoidance of novel, non-threatening intruders. Avoidance of familiar opponents represents a fear-related memory whereas generalized social avoidance indicates anxiety-like behavior. We have previously shown that serotonin signaling alters responses to social defeat in Syrian hamsters, although it is unclear whether serotonin modulates defeat-induced fear, anxiety, or both. In this study we focus on 5-HT1A receptors, in part, because their activation had been linked to the acquisition of conditioned fear. We hypothesized that pharmacological activation of 5-HT1A receptors prior to social defeat would reduce avoidance of familiar opponents and impair Arc expression in the basolateral amygdala (BLA), but not alter anxiety-like behavior. We administered 8-OH-DPAT, a 5-HT1A receptor agonist, prior to 3, 5-minute social defeats and 24 h later exposed hamsters to a social interaction test to measure the conditioned defeat response immediately followed by either a Y-maze test or an open field test. In a separate experiment, we administered 8-OH-DPAT prior to 3, 5-minute social defeats and later removed the brains for Arc immunohistochemistry. Social defeat increased the number of Arc immunopositive cells in the central amygdala (CeA), prelimbic cortex (PL), and BLA, and 8-OH-DPAT treatment reduced Arc immunoreactivity in the PL. These results suggest that 5-HT1A receptor activation impairs the fear memory associated with social defeat, but does not alter defeat-induced anxiety. Overall, 5-HT1A receptor activation may impair Arc expression in select brain regions such as the PL and thereby disrupt the development of a fear memory essential for the conditioned defeat response.

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