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Keywords:

  • cell proliferation;
  • coping style;
  • corticosterone;
  • hippocampus;
  • HPA axis;
  • mineralocorticoid receptor;
  • serotonin;
  • stress

Abstract: To characterize individual differences in neuroendocrine and neurochemical correlates of stress coping, two lines of wild house mice were studied. These mice are genetically selected for high and low aggression and show distinctly different behavioral strategies toward environmental stimuli. Long attack latency (LAL), low aggressive mice display a passive coping style, whereas short attack latency (SAL), high aggressive mice show an active coping style. It was hypothesized that this difference in behavioral coping style is associated with differences in stress system reactivity. This was tested by investigating the regulation of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the serotonin (5-HT) system and hippocampal cell proliferation rate in these mice under baseline and stress conditions. Baseline corticosterone output in LAL mice was found to be more sensitive to adrenocorticotropic hormone, but showed less day/night variation than in SAL mice. Furthermore, LAL mice showed lower hippocampal 5-HT1A receptor gene expression and function. Basal hippocampal cell proliferation rate was slightly lower in LAL than in SAL mice. Exposure to acute stress (forced swimming for 5 min) resulted in a hyper-reactive HPA response, a reduced increase in brain 5-HT metabolism, and an almost 50% reduction in hippocampal cell proliferation rate in LAL compared with SAL mice. Chronic psychosocial stress (sensory contact stress) induced long-lasting changes in the HPA axis in LAL, but not in SAL mice. In conclusion, these studies show that a genetic trait in behavioral coping style in wild house mice is associated with differences in HPA regulation, 5-HT neurotransmission, and hippocampal cell proliferation rate. The results further indicate that LAL mice have a higher stress responsivity than SAL mice. These results may have implications for a differential susceptibility for stress-related mood disorders.