• dendritic morphology;
  • prefrontal cortex;
  • rat;
  • corticosterone;
  • stress


Chronic stress produces deficits in cognition accompanied by alterations in neural chemistry and morphology. For example, both stress and chronic administration of corticosterone produce dendritic atrophy in hippocampal neurons (Woolley C, Gould E, McEwen BS. 1990. Exposure to excess glucocorticoids alters dendritic morphology of adult hippocampal pyramidal neurons. Brain Res 531:225–231; Watanabe Y, Gould E, McEwen BS, 1992b. Stress induces atrophy of apical dendrites of hippocampal CA3 pyramidal neurons. Brain Res 588:341–345). Prefrontal cortex is also a target for glucocorticoids involved in the stress response (Meaney MJ, Aitken DH. 1985. [3H]Dexamethasone binding in rat frontal cortex. Brain Res 328:176–180); it shows neurochemical changes in response to stress (e.g., Luine VN, Spencer RL, McEwen BS. 1993. Effect of chronic corticosterone ingestion on spatial memory performance and hippocampal serotonergic function. Brain Res 616:55–70; Crayton JW, Joshi I, Gulati A, Arora RC, Wolf WA. 1996. Effect of corticosterone on serotonin and catecholamine receptors and uptake sites in rat frontal cortex. Brain Res 728:260–262; Takao K, Nagatani T, Kitamura Y, Yamawaki S. 1997. Effects of corticosterone on 5-HT1A and 5-HT2 receptor binding and on the receptor-mediated behavioral responses of rats. Eur J Pharmacol 333:123–128; Sandi C, Loscertales M. 1999. Opposite effects on NCAM expression in the rat frontal cortex induced by acute vs. chronic corticosterone treatments. Brain Res 828:127–134), and mediates many of the behaviors that are altered by chronic corticosterone administration (e.g., Lyons DM, Lopez JM, Yang C, Schatzberg AF. 2000. Stress-level cortisol treatment impairs inhibitory control of behavior in monkeys. J Neurosci 20:7816–7821). To determine if glucocorticoid-induced morphological changes also occur in medial prefrontal cortex, the effects of chronic corticosterone administration on dendritic morphology in this corticolimbic structure were assessed. Adult male rats received s.c. injections of either corticosterone (10 mg in 250 μL sesame oil; n = 8) or vehicle (250 μL; n = 8) daily for 3 weeks. A third group of rats served as intact controls (n = 4). Brains were stained using a Golgi-Cox procedure and pyramidal neurons in layer II-III of medial prefrontal cortex were drawn; dendritic morphology was quantified in three dimensions. Sholl analyses demonstrated a significant redistribution of apical dendrites in corticosterone-treated animals: the amount of dendritic material proximal to the soma was increased relative to intact rats, while distal dendritic material was decreased relative to intact animals. Thus, chronic glucocorticoid administration dramatically reorganized apical arbors in medial prefrontal cortex. This reorganization likely reflects functional changes and may contribute to stress-induced changes in cognition. © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. J Neurobiol 49: 245–253, 2001