• anxiety;
  • corticosterone;
  • depression;
  • serotonin;
  • stress


Glucocorticoids can cause depression and anxiety. Mechanisms for glucocorticoid effects on mood are largely undefined. The dorsal raphé nucleus (DRN) produces the majority of serotonin in the brain, and expresses glucocorticoid receptors (GR). Because we previously showed that antidepressants used to treat depression and anxiety decrease DRN GR expression, we hypothesized that deleting DRN GR would have anxiolytic- and antidepressant-like effects. We also hypothesized that DRN GR deletion would disinhibit activity of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis. Adeno-associated virus pseudotype AAV2/9 expressing either Cre recombinase (DRNGRKO mice) or GFP (DRN-GFP mice) was injected into the DRN of floxed GR mice to test these hypotheses. Three weeks after injection, mice underwent 21 days of social defeat or control handling and were tested for anxiety-like behavior (open-field test, elevated-plus maze), depression-like behavior [sucrose preference, forced-swim test (FST), tail-suspension test (TST)], social interaction, and circadian and stress-induced HPA activity. DRN GR deletion decreased anxiety-like behavior in control but not in defeated mice. DRN GR deletion decreased FST and tended to decrease TST despair-like behavior in both control and defeated mice, but did not affect sucrose preference. Exploration of social (a novel mouse) as well as neutral (an empty box) targets was increased in DRNGRKO mice, suggesting that DRN GR deletion also promotes active coping. DRN GR deletion increased stress-induced HPA activity without strongly altering circadian HPA activity. We have shown a novel role for DRN GR to mediate anxiety- and despair-like behavior and to regulate HPA negative feedback during acute stress.