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Mind the gap: glucocorticoids modulate hippocampal glutamate tone underlying individual differences in stress susceptibility

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Abstract

Why do some individuals succumb to stress and develop debilitating psychiatric disorders, whereas others adapt well in the face of adversity? There is a gap in understanding the neural bases of individual differences in the responses to environmental factors on brain development and functions. Here, using a novel approach for screening an inbred population of laboratory animals, we identified two subpopulations of mice: susceptible mice that show mood-related abnormalities compared with resilient mice, which cope better with stress. This approach combined with molecular and behavioral analyses, led us to recognize, in hippocampus, presynaptic mGlu2 receptors, which inhibit glutamate release, as a stress-sensitive marker of individual differences to stress-induced mood disorders. Indeed, genetic mGlu2 deletion in mice results in a more severe susceptibility to stress, mimicking the susceptible mouse sub-population. Furthermore, we describe an underlying mechanism by which glucocorticoids, acting via mineralocorticoid receptors (MRs), decrease resilience to stress via downregulation of mGlu2 receptors. We also provide a mechanistic link between MRs and an epigenetic control of the glutamatergic synapse that underlies susceptibility to stressful experiences. The approach and the epigenetic allostasis concept introduced here serve as a model for identifying individual differences based upon biomarkers and underlying mechanisms and also provide molecular features that may be useful in translation to human behavior and psychopathology.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by AFSP, HDRF and NIH Grant RO1 MH41256. We thank the ACNP (American Congress of Neuropsychopharmacology) and ECNP (European Congress of Neuropsychopharmacology) for awarding the preliminary results of this research. mGlu2 receptor-knockout mice (mGlu2−/− mice) were kindly provided by S. Nakanishi, University of Kyoto, Kyoto, Japan.

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Correspondence to C Nasca or B S McEwen.

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Nasca, C., Bigio, B., Zelli, D. et al. Mind the gap: glucocorticoids modulate hippocampal glutamate tone underlying individual differences in stress susceptibility. Mol Psychiatry 20, 755–763 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/mp.2014.96

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