Our ability to develop the cognitive strategies required to deal with daily-life stress is regulated by region-specific neuronal networks. Experimental evidences suggest that prolonged stress in mice induces depressive-like behaviors via morphological, functional and molecular changes affecting the mesolimbic and mesocortical dopaminergic pathways. Yet, the molecular interactions underlying these changes are still poorly understood and whether they affect males and females similarly is unknown. Here, we used chronic social defeat stress (CSDS) to induce depressive-like behaviors in male and female mice. Density of the mesolimbic and cortical projections was assessed via immuno-histochemistry combined with Sholl analysis along with the staining of the activity-dependent markers pERK and c-Fos in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), nucleus accumbens (NAc) and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). We showed that social stress decreases the density of dopaminergic axonal projections to the mPFC but not to the NAc in susceptible and resilient mice. This was accompanied by sex-specific alterations of pERK and c-Fos expression in the VTA of susceptible but not resilient mice. Our results indicate that social defeat stress impacts the mesolimbic and mesocortical pathways by altering the molecular interactions regulating somatic and axonal plasticity differently in males and females.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience