Hippocampal extracellular levels of noradrenaline (NA), 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT), and 5-hydroxyindole-acetic acid (5-HIAA) were monitored with the microdialysis technique in freely moving rats. In one experiment 30 min samples were collected during 24 h of continuous perfusion, and the monoamine output was compared to the behavioural activity state, as arbitrarily classified in three categories: sleep/rest, drowsiness and full alertness associated with complex behaviours. In the individual animal the hippocampal NA and 5-HT output showed pronounced fluctuations during the 24 h period, but the 30 min sampling times did not allow for a clear-cut correlation to behavioural activity state. However, the mean NA and 5-HT output for all animals during the dark period of the day was 43 and 38% higher, respectively, than during the light period, and the average NA and 5-HT levels in samples collected during periods of high behavioural activity was 34 and 45% higher, respectively, than during periods of rest or sleep. In contrast, there were no detectable changes in extracellular 5-HIAA. The selective serotonin uptake blocker indalpine, added to the perfusion fluid at 1 μM, increased the extracellular 5-HT levels 6-fold, with a similar correlation to behavioural activity state as without indalpine.
In a second experiment the effect of handling and tail-pinch was studied in 15 min sample fractions. Gentle handling of the animals during the sampling period increased the hippocampal NA and 5-HT output by 32 and 72%, respectively, and a similar increase (63 and 48%) was obtained by application of tail-pinch. Maximum NA output was reached during the handling or tail-pinch period, whereas maximal 5-HT levels were detected in the subsequent 15 min sample fraction. No changes in extracellular 5-HIAA was observed.
It is concluded (1) that intracerebral microdialysis provides a useful method for the study of extracellular NA and 5-HT in the hippocampal formation of conscious rats during active behaviour; (2) that there are substantial fluctuations in hippocampal NA and 5-HT output in freely moving rats which correlate with the light-dark cycle as well as with the activity state of the animals; (3) that the spontaneous variations in 5-HT output are maintained during reuptake blockade; and (4) that behavioural activation through gentle handling or tail-pinch elicits NA and 5-HT release. The present data support a role of the forebrain NA and 5-HT systems in behavioural state control and highlights the necessity of experimental designs in which the spontaneous fluctuations in transmitter release are controlled for in studies of, for example, drug effects on NA and 5-HT release in conscious animals.