White matter changes in microstructure associated with a maladaptive response to stress in rats.

Research paper by R R Magalhães, J J Bourgin, F F Boumezbeur, P P Marques, M M Bottlaender, C C Poupon, B B Djemaï, E E Duchesnay, S S Mériaux, N N Sousa, T M TM Jay, A A Cachia

Indexed on: 25 Jan '17Published on: 25 Jan '17Published in: Translational Psychiatry


In today's society, every individual is subjected to stressful stimuli with different intensities and duration. This exposure can be a key trigger in several mental illnesses greatly affecting one's quality of life. Yet not all subjects respond equally to the same stimulus and some are able to better adapt to them delaying the onset of its negative consequences. The neural specificities of this adaptation can be essential to understand the true dynamics of stress as well as to design new approaches to reduce its consequences. In the current work, we employed ex vivo high field diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to uncover the differences in white matter properties in the entire brain between Fisher 344 (F344) and Sprague-Dawley (SD) rats, known to present different responses to stress, and to examine the effects of a 2-week repeated inescapable stress paradigm. We applied a tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS) analysis approach to a total of 25 animals. After exposure to stress, SD rats were found to have lower values of corticosterone when compared with F344 rats. Overall, stress was found to lead to an overall increase in fractional anisotropy (FA), on top of a reduction in mean and radial diffusivity (MD and RD) in several white matter bundles of the brain. No effect of strain on the white matter diffusion properties was observed. The strain-by-stress interaction revealed an effect on SD rats in MD, RD and axial diffusivity (AD), with lower diffusion metric levels on stressed animals. These effects were localized on the left side of the brain on the external capsule, corpus callosum, deep cerebral white matter, anterior commissure, endopiriform nucleus, dorsal hippocampus and amygdala fibers. The results possibly reveal an adaptation of the SD strain to the stressful stimuli through synaptic and structural plasticity processes, possibly reflecting learning processes.