February 24, 2021


Stress-induced activation of locus coeruleus (LC)-norepinephrine (NE) projections to the prefrontal cortex is thought to promote cognitive responses to stressors. LC activation by stressors is modulated by endogenous opioids that serve to restrain LC activation and to facilitate a return to baseline activity upon stress termination. Sex differences in this opioid influence could be a basis for sex differences in stress vulnerability. Consistent with this, we recently demonstrated that -opioid receptor (MOR) expression is decreased in the female rat LC compared to the male LC and this was associated with sexually distinct consequences of activating MOR in the LC on cognitive flexibility. Given that the LC-NE system affects cognitive flexibility through its projections to the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), the present study quantified and compared the effects of LC-MOR activation on mPFC neural activity in male and female rats. Local field potential (LFPs) were recorded from the mPFC of freely behaving male and female rats before and following local LC microinjection of the MOR agonist, DAMGO or vehicle. Intra-LC DAMGO altered the LFP power spectrum selectively in male, but not female rats, resulting in a time-dependent increase in the power in delta and alpha frequency bands. LC microinfusion of ACSF had no effect in either sex. Together, the results are consistent with previous evidence for decreased MOR function in the female rat LC and demonstrate that this translates to a diminished effect on cortical activity that can account for sex differences in cognitive consequences. Decreased LC-MOR function in females could contribute to greater stress-induced activation of the LC, and increased vulnerability of females to hyperarousal symptoms of stress-related neuropsychiatric pathologies.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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