Early-life stress alters affective behaviors in adult mice through persistent activation of CRH-BDNF signaling in the oval bed nucleus of the stria terminalis

Pu Hu, Isabella Maita, Mimi L. Phan, Edward Gu, Christopher Kwok, Andrew Dieterich, Mark M. Gergues, Christine N. Yohn, Yu Wang, Jiang Ning Zhou, Xin Rui Qi, Dick F. Swaab, Zhiping P. Pang, Paul J. Lucassen, Troy A. Roepke, Benjamin A. Samuels

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19 Scopus citations


Early-life stress (ELS) leads to stress-related psychopathology in adulthood. Although dysfunction of corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) signaling in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) mediates chronic stress-induced maladaptive affective behaviors that are historically associated with mood disorders such as anxiety and depression, it remains unknown whether ELS affects CRH function in the adult BNST. Here we applied a well-established ELS paradigm (24 h maternal separation (MS) at postnatal day 3) and assessed the effects on CRH signaling and electrophysiology in the oval nucleus of BNST (ovBNST) of adult male mouse offspring. ELS increased maladaptive affective behaviors, and amplified mEPSCs and decreased M-currents (a voltage-gated K+ current critical for stabilizing membrane potential) in ovBNST CRH neurons, suggesting enhanced cellular excitability. Furthermore, ELS increased the numbers of CRH+ and PACAP+ (the pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide, an upstream CRH regulator) cells and decreased STEP+ (striatal-enriched protein tyrosine phosphatase, a CRH inhibitor) cells in BNST. Interestingly, ELS also increased BNST brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) expression, indicating enhanced neuronal plasticity. These electrophysiological and behavioral effects of ELS were reversed by chronic application of the CRHR1-selective antagonist R121919 into ovBNST, but not when BDNF was co-administered. In addition, the neurophysiological effects of BDNF on M-currents and mEPSCs in BNST CRH neurons mimic effects and were abolished by PKC antagonism. Together, our findings indicate that ELS results in a long-lasting activation of CRH signaling in the mouse ovBNST. These data highlight a regulatory role of CRHR1 in the BNST and for BDNF signaling in mediating ELS-induced long-term behavioral changes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number396
JournalTranslational psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry


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