PublicationsChronic Stress Induces Maladaptive Behaviors by Activating Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone Signaling in the Mouse Oval Bed Nucleus of the Stria Terminalis
The bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) is a forebrain region highly responsive to stress that expresses corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) and is implicated in mood disorders such as anxiety. However, the exact mechanism by which chronic stress induces CRH-mediated dysfunction in BNST and maladaptive behaviors remains unclear. Here, we first confirmed that selective acute optogenetic activation of the oval nucleus (ovBNST) increases maladaptive avoidance behavior in male mice. Next, we found that a 6-week chronic variable mild stress (CVMS) paradigm resulted in maladaptive behaviors and increased cellular excitability of ovBNST CRH neurons by potentiating mEPSC amplitude, altering the resting membrane potential, and diminishing M-currents (a voltage-gated K+ current that stabilizes membrane potential) in ex vivo slices. CVMS also increased c-fos+ cells in ovBNST following handling. We next investigated potential molecular mechanism underlying the electrophysiological effects and observed that CVMS increased CRH+ and pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide+ (PACAP; a CRH upstream regulator) cells, but decreased striatal-enriched protein tyrosine phosphatase+ (STEP; a CRH inhibitor) cells in ovBNST. Interestingly, the electrophysiological effects of CVMS were reversed by CRHR1-selective antagonist R121919 application. CVMS also activated PKA in BNST, and chronic infusion of the PKA-selective antagonist H89 into ovBNST reversed the effects of CVMS. Co-administration of the PKA agonist forskolin prevented the beneficial effects of R121919. Finally, CVMS induced an increase in surface expression of phosphorylated GluR1 (S845) in BNST. Collectively, these findings highlight a novel and indispensable stress-induced role for PKA-dependent CRHR1 signaling in activating BNST CRH neurons and mediating maladaptive behaviors.Significance Statement:Chronic stress and acute activation of oval BNST (ovBNST) induces maladaptive behaviors in rodents. However, the precise molecular and electrophysiological mechanisms underlying these effects remain unclear. Here, we demonstrate that chronic variable mild stress (CVMS) activates CRH-associated stress signaling and CRH neurons in ovBNST by potentiating mEPSC amplitude and decreasing M-current in male mice. These electrophysiological alterations and maladaptive behaviors were mediated by BNST PKA-dependent CRHR1 signaling. Our results thus highlight the importance of BNST CRH dysfunction in chronic stress-induced disorders.