Increased stress reactivity is associated with cognitive deficits and decreased hippocampal brain-derived neurotrophic factor in a mouse model of affective disorders.

Research paper by A A Knapman, J-M JM Heinzmann, R R Hellweg, F F Holsboer, R R Landgraf, C C Touma

Indexed on: 29 Dec '09Published on: 29 Dec '09Published in: Journal of Psychiatric Research


Cognitive deficits are a common feature of major depression (MD), with largely unknown biological underpinnings. In addition to the affective and cognitive symptoms of MD, a dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is commonly observed in these patients. Increased plasma glucocorticoid levels are known to render the hippocampus susceptible to neuronal damage. This structure is important for learning and memory, creating a potential link between HPA axis dysregulation and cognitive deficits in depression. In order to further elucidate how altered stress responsiveness may contribute to the etiology of MD, three mouse lines with high (HR), intermediate (IR), or low (LR) stress reactivity were generated by selective breeding. The aim of the present study was to investigate whether increased stress reactivity is associated with deficits in hippocampus-dependent memory tests. To this end, we subjected mice from the HR, IR, and LR breeding lines to tests of recognition memory, spatial memory, and depression-like behavior. In addition, measurements of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the hippocampus and plasma of these animals were conducted. Our results demonstrate that HR mice exhibit hippocampus-dependent memory deficits along with decreased hippocampal, but not plasma, BDNF levels. Thus, the stress reactivity mouse lines are a promising animal model of the cognitive deficits in MD with the unique feature of a genetic predisposition for an altered HPA axis reactivity, which provides the opportunity to explore the progression of the symptoms of MD, predisposing genetic factors as well as new treatment strategies.