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Keywords:

  • accumbens;
  • amygdala;
  • butyric acid;
  • fos-related antigen;
  • freezing

Abstract

The present study assessed alterations in mesolimbic enkephalin (ENK) mRNA levels after predator [2,5-dihydro-2,4,5-trimethylethiazoline (TMT)] and non-predator (butyric acid) odor encounter and/or light–dark (LD) testing in CD-1 mice immediately, 24, 48 and 168 h after the initial odor encounter and/or LD testing. The nucleus accumbens, ventral tegmental area, basolateral (BLA), central (CEA) and medial amygdaloid nuclei, prelimbic and infralimbic cortex were assessed for fos-related antigen (FRA) and/or ENK mRNA as well as neuronal activation of ENK neurons (FRA/ENK). Mice exposed to TMT displayed enhanced freezing and spent less time in the light of the immediate LD test relative to saline- or butyric acid-treated mice. Among mice exposed to TMT, LD anxiety-like behavior was associated with increased FRA in the prelimbic cortex and accumbal shell and decreased ENK-positive neurons in the accumbal core. Mice displaying high TMT-induced LD anxiety exhibited increased ENK-positive neurons in the BLA, CEA and medial amygdaloid nuclei relative to mice that displayed low anxiety-like behavior in the LD test after TMT exposure. In the BLA and CEA, ‘high-anxiety’ mice also displayed increased FRA/ENK after TMT exposure and LD testing. In contrast to neural cell counts, the level of ENK transcript was decreased in the BLA and CEA of ‘high-anxiety’ mice after TMT exposure and LD testing. These data suggest that increased FRA may regulate stressor-responsive genes and mediate long-term behavioral changes. Indeed, increased ENK availability in mesolimbic sites may promote behavioral responses that detract from the aversiveness of the stressor experience.