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Acquisition and extinction of learned fear responses utilize conserved but flexible neural circuits. Here we show that acquisition of conditioned freezing behavior is associated with dynamic remodeling of relative excitatory drive from the basolateral amygdala (BLA) away from corticotropin releasing factor-expressing (CRF) centrolateral amygdala neurons, and toward non-CRF (CRF) and somatostatin-expressing (SOM) neurons, while fear extinction training remodels this circuit back toward favoring CRF neurons. Importantly, BLA activity is required for this experience-dependent remodeling, while directed inhibition of the BLA-centrolateral amygdala circuit impairs both fear memory acquisition and extinction memory retrieval. Additionally, ectopic excitation of CRF neurons impairs fear memory acquisition and facilities extinction, whereas CRF neuron inhibition impairs extinction memory retrieval, supporting the notion that CRF neurons serve to inhibit learned freezing behavior. These data suggest that afferent-specific dynamic remodeling of relative excitatory drive to functionally distinct subcortical neuronal output populations represents an important mechanism underlying experience-dependent modification of behavioral selection.
The stress response system is disrupted in individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD) as well as in those at elevated risk for developing MDD. We examined whether DNA methylation (DNAm) levels of CpG sites within HPA-axis genes predict the onset of MDD. Seventy-seven girls, approximately half (n = 37) of whom were at familial risk for MDD, were followed longitudinally. Saliva samples were taken in adolescence (M age = 13.06 years [SD = 1.52]) when participants had no current or past MDD diagnosis. Diagnostic interviews were administered approximately every 18 months until the first onset of MDD or early adulthood (M age of last follow-up = 19.23 years [SD = 2.69]). We quantified DNAm in saliva samples using the Illumina EPIC chip and examined CpG sites within six key HPA-axis genes (NR3C1, NR3C2, CRH, CRHR1, CRHR2, FKBP5) alongside 59 genotypes for tagging SNPs capturing cis genetic variability. DNAm levels within CpG sites in NR3C1, CRH, CRHR1, and CRHR2 were associated with risk for MDD across adolescence and young adulthood. To rule out the possibility that findings were merely due to the contribution of genetic variability, we re-analyzed the data controlling for cis genetic variation within these candidate genes. Importantly, methylation levels in these CpG sites continued to significantly predict the onset of MDD, suggesting that variation in the epigenome, independent of proximal genetic variants, prospectively predicts the onset of MDD. These findings suggest that variation in the HPA axis at the level of the methylome may predict the development of MDD.
BACKGROUND - Relapse is a critical barrier to effective long-term treatment of alcoholism, and stress is often cited as a key trigger to relapse. Numerous studies suggest that stress-induced reinstatement to drug-seeking behaviors is mediated by norepinephrine (NE) and corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) signaling interactions in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST), a brain region critical to many behavioral and physiologic responses to stressors. Here, we sought to directly examine the effects of NE on BNST CRF neuron activity and determine whether these effects may be modulated by chronic intermittent EtOH (CIE) exposure or a single restraint stress.
METHODS - Adult male CRF-tomato reporter mice were treatment-naïve, or either exposed to CIE for 2 weeks or to a single 1-hour restraint stress. Effects of application of exogenous NE on BNST CRF neuron activity were assessed via whole-cell patch-clamp electrophysiological techniques.
RESULTS - We found that NE depolarized BNST CRF neurons in naïve mice in a β-adrenergic receptor (AR)-dependent mechanism. CRF neurons from CIE- or stress-exposed mice had significantly elevated basal resting membrane potential compared to naïve mice. Furthermore, CIE and stress individually disrupted the ability of NE to depolarize CRF neurons, suggesting that both stress and CIE utilize β-AR signaling to modulate BNST CRF neurons. Neither stress nor CIE altered the ability of exogenous NE to inhibit evoked glutamatergic transmission onto BNST CRF neurons as shown in naïve mice, a mechanism previously shown to be α-AR-dependent.
CONCLUSIONS - Altogether, these findings suggest that stress and CIE interact with β-AR signaling to modulate BNST CRF neuron activity, potentially disrupting the α/β-AR balance of BNST CRF neuronal excitability. Restoration of α/β-AR balance may lead to novel therapies for the alleviation of many stress-related disorders.
© 2019 by the Research Society on Alcoholism.
Stress contributes to numerous psychiatric disorders. Corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) signaling and CRF neurons in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) drive negative affective behaviors, thus agents that decrease activity of these cells may be of therapeutic interest. Here, we show that acute restraint stress increases cFos expression in CRF neurons in the mouse dorsal BNST, consistent with a role for these neurons in stress-related behaviors. We find that activation of α-adrenergic receptors (ARs) by the agonist guanfacine reduced cFos expression in these neurons both in stressed and unstressed conditions. Further, we find that α- and β-ARs differentially regulate excitatory drive onto these neurons. Pharmacological and channelrhodopsin-assisted mapping experiments suggest that α-ARs specifically reduce excitatory drive from parabrachial nucleus (PBN) afferents onto CRF neurons. Given that the α-AR is a G-linked GPCR, we assessed the impact of activating the G-coupled DREADD hM4Di in the PBN on restraint stress regulation of BNST CRF neurons. CNO activation of PBN hM4Di reduced stress-induced in BNST neurons. Further, using as an additional marker of BNST neuronal identity, we uncovered a female-specific upregulation of the coexpression of in BNST neurons following stress, which was prevented by ovariectomy. These findings show that stress activates BNST CRF neurons, and that α-AR activation suppresses the activity of these cells, at least in part by suppressing excitatory drive from PBN inputs onto CRF neurons. Stress is a major variable contributing to mood disorders. Here, we show that stress increases activation of BNST CRF neurons that drive negative affective behavior. We find that the clinically well tolerated α-AR agonist guanfacine reduces activity of these cells , and reduces excitatory PBN inputs onto these cells Additionally, we uncover a novel sex-dependent coexpression of with in female BNST neurons after stress, an effect abolished by ovariectomy. These results demonstrate input-specific interactions between norepinephrine and CRF, and point to an action by which guanfacine may reduce negative affective responses.
Copyright © 2019 the authors 0270-6474/19/390472-13$15.00/0.
Corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) is a neuropeptide that plays a key role in behavioral and physiological responses to stress. A large body of animal literature implicates CRF acting at type 1 CRF receptors (CRFR1) in consumption by alcohol-dependent subjects, stress-induced reinstatement of alcohol seeking, and possibly binge alcohol consumption. These studies have encouraged recent pilot studies of CRFR1 antagonists in humans with alcohol use disorder (AUD). It was a great disappointment to many in the field that these studies failed to show an effect of these compounds on stress-induced alcohol craving. Here, we examine these studies to explore potential limitations and discuss preclinical and human literature to ask whether CRFR1 is still a valid drug target to pursue for the treatment of AUD.
Copyright © 2017 by the Research Society on Alcoholism.
Sustained exposure to stress or corticosteroids is known to cause changes in brain endocannabinoid (eCB) signaling, such that tissue contents of the eCBs N-arachidonylethanolamine (AEA) are generally reduced while 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) levels increase. These changes in eCB signaling are important for many of the aspects of chronic stress, such as anxiety, reward sensitivity and stress adaptation, yet the mechanisms mediating these changes are not fully understood. We have recently found that the stress-related neuropeptide corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), acting through the CRH type 1 receptor (CRHR1), can reduce AEA content by increasing its hydrolysis by the enzyme fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) as well as increase 2-AG contents. As extra-hypothalamic CRH is upregulated by chronic corticosteroid or stress exposure, we hypothesized that increased CRH signaling through CRHR1 contributes to the effects of chronic corticosteroid exposure on the eCB system within the amygdala and prefrontal cortex. Male rats were exposed to 7 days of systemic corticosterone capsules, with or without concurrent exposure to a CRHR1 antagonist, after which we examined eCB content. Consistent with previous studies in the amygdala, sustained corticosterone exposure increases CRH mRNA in the prefrontal cortex. As was shown previously, FAAH activity was increased and AEA contents were reduced within the amygdala and prefrontal cortex following chronic corticosterone exposure. Chronic corticosterone exposure also elevated 2-AG content in the prefrontal cortex but not the amygdala. These corticosteroid-driven changes were all blocked by systemic CRHR1 antagonism. Consistent with these data indicating sustained increases in CRH signaling can mediate the effects of chronic elevations in corticosteroids, CRH overexpressing mice also exhibited increased FAAH-mediated AEA hydrolysis in the amygdala and prefrontal cortex compared to wild type. CRH overexpression increased 2-AG content in the amygdala, but not the prefrontal cortex. These data indicate that chronic elevations in CRH signaling, as is seen following exposure to chronic elevations in corticosterone or stress, drive persistent changes in eCB function. As reductions in AEA signaling mediate the effects of CRH and chronic stress on anxiety, these data provide a mechanism linking these processes.
Copyright © 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
BACKGROUND - Ethanol (EtOH) modulation of central amygdala (CeA) neurocircuitry plays a key role in the development of alcoholism via activation of the corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) receptor (CRFR) system. Previous work has predominantly focused on EtOH × CRF interactions on the CeA GABA circuitry; however, our laboratory recently showed that CRF enhances CeA glutamatergic transmission. Therefore, this study sought to determine whether EtOH modulates CeA glutamate transmission via activation of CRF signaling.
METHODS - The effects of EtOH on spontaneous excitatory postsynaptic currents (sEPSCs) and basal resting membrane potentials were examined via standard electrophysiology methods in adult male C57BL/6J mice. Local ablation of CeA CRF neurons (CRF(CeAhDTR) ) was achieved by targeting the human diphtheria toxin receptor (hDTR) to CeA CRF neurons with an adeno-associated virus. Ablation was quantified post hoc with confocal microscopy. Genetic targeting of the diphtheria toxin active subunit to CRF neurons (CRF(DTA) mice) ablated CRF neurons throughout the central nervous system, as assessed by quantitative reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction quantification of CRF mRNA.
RESULTS - Acute bath application of EtOH significantly increased sEPSC frequency in a concentration-dependent manner in CeA neurons, and this effect was blocked by pretreatment of co-applied CRFR1 and CRFR2 antagonists. In experiments utilizing a CRF-tomato reporter mouse, EtOH did not significantly alter the basal membrane potential of CeA CRF neurons. The ability of EtOH to enhance CeA sEPSC frequency was not altered in CRF(CeAhDTR) mice despite a ~78% reduction in CeA CRF cell counts. The ability of EtOH to enhance CeA sEPSC frequency was also not altered in the CRF(DTA) mice despite a 3-fold reduction in CRF mRNA levels.
CONCLUSIONS - These findings demonstrate that EtOH enhances spontaneous glutamatergic transmission in the CeA via a CRFR-dependent mechanism. Surprisingly, our data suggest that this action may not require endogenous CRF.
Copyright © 2015 by the Research Society on Alcoholism.
Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) is a central integrator in the brain of endocrine and behavioral stress responses, whereas activation of the endocannabinoid CB1 receptor suppresses these responses. Although these systems regulate overlapping functions, few studies have investigated whether these systems interact. Here we demonstrate a novel mechanism of CRH-induced anxiety that relies on modulation of endocannabinoids. Specifically, we found that CRH, through activation of the CRH receptor type 1 (CRHR1), evokes a rapid induction of the enzyme fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), which causes a reduction in the endocannabinoid anandamide (AEA), within the amygdala. Similarly, the ability of acute stress to modulate amygdala FAAH and AEA in both rats and mice is also mediated through CRHR1 activation. This interaction occurs specifically in amygdala pyramidal neurons and represents a novel mechanism of endocannabinoid-CRH interactions in regulating amygdala output. Functionally, we found that CRH signaling in the amygdala promotes an anxious phenotype that is prevented by FAAH inhibition. Together, this work suggests that rapid reductions in amygdala AEA signaling following stress may prime the amygdala and facilitate the generation of downstream stress-linked behaviors. Given that endocannabinoid signaling is thought to exert "tonic" regulation on stress and anxiety responses, these data suggest that CRH signaling coordinates a disruption of tonic AEA activity to promote a state of anxiety, which in turn may represent an endogenous mechanism by which stress enhances anxiety. These data suggest that FAAH inhibitors may represent a novel class of anxiolytics that specifically target stress-induced anxiety.
Copyright © 2015 the authors 0270-6474/15/353879-14$15.00/0.
The central amygdala is a critical brain region for many aspects of alcohol dependence. Much of the work examining the mechanisms by which the central amygdala mediates the development of alcohol dependence has focused on the interaction of acute and chronic ethanol with central amygdala corticotropin releasing factor signaling. This work has led to a great deal of success in furthering the general understanding of central amygdala neurocircuitry and its role in alcohol dependence. Much of this work has primarily focused on the hypothesis that ethanol utilizes endogenous corticotropin releasing factor signaling to upregulate inhibitory GABAergic transmission in the central amygdala. Work that is more recent suggests that corticotropin releasing factor also plays an important role in mediating anxiety-like behaviors via the enhancement of central amygdala glutamatergic transmission, implying that ethanol/corticotropin releasing factor interactions may modulate excitatory neurotransmission in this brain region. In addition, a number of studies utilizing optogenetic strategies or transgenic mouse lines have begun to examine specific central amygdala neurocircuit dynamics and neuronal subpopulations to better understand overall central amygdala neurocircuitry and the role of neuronal subtypes in mediating anxiety-like behaviors. This review will provide a brief update on this literature and describe some potential future directions that may be important for the development of better treatments for alcohol addiction.
Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Glutamatergic neurotransmission in the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) plays an important role in many behaviors including anxiety, memory consolidation and cardiovascular responses. While these behaviors can be modulated by corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) and catecholamine signaling, the mechanism(s) by which these signals modify CeA glutamatergic neurotransmission remains unclear. Utilizing whole-cell patch-clamp electrophysiology recordings from neurons in the lateral subdivision of the CeA (CeAL), we show that CRF, dopamine (DA) and the β-adrenergic receptor agonist isoproterenol (ISO) all enhance the frequency of spontaneous excitatory postsynaptic currents (sEPSC) without altering sEPSC kinetics, suggesting they increase presynaptic glutamate release. The effect of CRF on sEPSCs was mediated by a combination of CRFR1 and CRFR2 receptors. While previous work from our lab suggests that CRFRs mediate the effect of catecholamines on excitatory transmission in other subregions of the extended amygdala, blockade of CRFRs in the CeAL failed to significantly alter effects of DA and ISO on glutamatergic transmission. These findings suggest that catecholamine and CRF enhancement of glutamatergic transmission onto CeAL neurons occurs via distinct mechanisms. While CRF increased spontaneous glutamate release in the CeAL, CRF caused no significant changes to optogenetically evoked glutamate release in this region. The dissociable effects of CRF on different types of glutamatergic neurotransmission suggest that CRF may specifically regulate spontaneous excitatory transmission.
Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.