A diet enriched with curcumin promotes resilience to chronic social defeat stress

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Chronic exposure to stress is a well-known risk factor for the development of mood and anxiety disorders. Promoting resilience to stress may prevent the development of these disorders, but resilience-enhancing compounds are not yet clinically available. One compound that has shown promise in the clinical setting is curcumin, a polyphenol compound found in the rhizome of the turmeric plant (Curcuma longa) with known anti-inflammatory and antidepressant properties. Here, we tested the efficacy of 1.5% dietary curcumin at promoting resilience to chronic social defeat stress (CSDS) in 129/SvEv mice, a strain that we show is highly susceptible to this type of stress. We found that administration of curcumin during CSDS produced a 4.5-fold increase in stress resilience, as measured by the social interaction test. Although the overall effects of curcumin were striking, we identified two distinct responses to curcumin. While 64% of defeated mice on curcumin were resilient (responders), the remaining 36% of mice were susceptible to the effects of stress (non-responders). Interestingly, responders released less corticosterone following acute restraint stress and had lower levels of peripheral IL-6 than nonresponders, implicating a role for the NF-κB pathway in treatment response. Importantly, curcumin also prevented anxiety-like behavior in both responders and non-responders in the elevated-plus maze and open field test. Collectively, our findings provide the first preclinical evidence that curcumin promotes resilience to CSDS and suggest that curcumin may prevent the emergence of a range of anxiety-like symptoms when given to individuals during exposure to chronic social stress.

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Correspondence to Nesha S. Burghardt.

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