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1.  Estrogen Promotes Stress Sensitivity in a Prefrontal Cortex–Amygdala Pathway 
Cerebral Cortex (New York, NY)  2010;20(11):2560-2567.
We have recently reported in male rats that medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) neurons that project to the basolateral nucleus of the amygdala (BLA) are resilient to stress-induced dendritic remodeling. The present study investigated whether this also occurs in female rats. This pathway was identified using the retrograde tracer Fast Blue injected into the BLA of ovariectomized female rats with estrogen replacement (OVX + E) and without (OVX + veh). Animals were exposed for 10 days either to 2-h immobilization stress or to home cage rest, after which layer III mPFC neurons that were either retrogradely labeled by Fast Blue or unlabeled were filled with Lucifer Yellow and analyzed for apical dendritic length and spine density. No dendritic remodeling occurred in unlabeled neurons from OVX + veh or OVX + E animals. In BLA-projecting neurons, however, stress had no effect on length in OVX + veh animals, but stressed OVX + E females showed greater dendritic length than controls at intermediate branches. Stress also caused an increase in spine density in all neurons in OVX + veh animals and a spine density increase in BLA-projecting neurons in OVX + E females. Estrogen also increased spine density on BLA-projecting neurons in unstressed animals. These data demonstrate both independent effects of estrogen on pyramidal cell morphology and effects that are interactive with stress, with the BLA-projecting neurons being sensitive to both kinds of effects.
PMCID: PMC2951843  PMID: 20139149
connectivity; dendritic arborization; medial prefrontal cortex; neural plasticity; sex difference
2.  Structural and functional alterations to rat medial prefrontal cortex following chronic restraint stress and recovery 
Neuroscience  2009;164(2):798-808.
Chronic stress has been shown in animal models to result in altered dendritic morphology of pyramidal neurons of the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). It has been hypothesized that the stress-induced dendritic retractions and spine loss lead to disrupted connectivity that results in stress-induced functional impairment of mPFC. While these alterations were initially viewed as a neurodegenerative event, it has recently been established that stress induced dendritic alterations are reversible if animals are given time to recover from chronic stress. However, whether spine growth accompanies dendritic extension remains to be demonstrated. It is also not known if recovery-phase dendritic extension allows for re-establishment of functional capacity. The goal of this study, therefore, was to characterize the structural and functional effects of chronic stress and recovery on the infralimbic (IL) region of the rat mPFC. We compared neuronal morphology of layer V IL pyramidal neurons from animals subjected to 21 days of chronic restraint stress (CRS) to those that experienced CRS followed by a 21 day recovery period. Layer V pyramidal cell functional capacity was assessed by intra-IL long-term potentiation (LTP) both in the absence and presence of SKF38393, a dopamine receptor partial agonist and a known PFC LTP modulator. We found that stress-induced IL apical dendritic retraction and spine loss co-occur with receptor-mediated impairments to catecholaminergic facilitation of synaptic plasticity. We also found that while post-stress recovery did not reverse distal dendritic retraction, it did result in over-extension of proximal dendritic neuroarchitecture and spine growth as well as a full reversal of CRS-induced impairments to catecholaminergic-mediated synaptic plasticity. Our results support the hypothesis that disease-related PFC dysfunction is a consequence of network disruption secondary to altered structural and functional plasticity and that circuitry reestablishment may underlie elements of recovery. Accordingly, we believe that pharmacological treatments targeted at preventing dendritic retraction and spine loss or encouraging circuitry reestablishment and stabilization may be advantageous in the prevention and treatment of mood and anxiety disorders.
PMCID: PMC2762025  PMID: 19723561
infralimbic; dendritic morphology; dendritic spines; dopamine; long-term potentiation
3.  Stress-Induced Dendritic Remodeling in the Prefrontal Cortex is Circuit Specific 
Cerebral Cortex (New York, NY)  2009;19(10):2479-2484.
Chronic stress exposure has been reported to induce dendritic remodeling in several brain regions, but it is not known whether individual neural circuits show distinct patterns of remodeling. The current study tested the hypothesis that the projections from the infralimbic (IL) area of the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) to the basolateral nucleus of the amygdala (BLA), a pathway relevant to stress-related mental illnesses like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, would have a unique pattern of remodeling in response to chronic stress. The retrograde tracer FastBlue was injected into male rats’ BLA or entorhinal cortex (EC) 1 week prior to 10 days of immobilization stress. After cessation of stress, FastBlue-labeled and unlabeled IL pyaramidal neurons were loaded with fluorescent dye Lucifer Yellow to visualize dendritic arborization and spine density. As has been previously reported, randomly selected (non-FastBlue-labeled) neurons showed stress-induced dendritic retraction in apical dendrites, an effect also seen in EC-projecting neurons. In contrast, BLA-projecting neurons showed no remodeling with stress, suggesting that this pathway may be particularly resilient against the effects of stress. No neurons showed stress-related changes in spine density, contrasting with reports that more dorsal areas of the mPFC show stress-induced decreases in spine density. Such region- and circuit-specificity in response to stress could contribute to the development of stress-related mental illnesses.
PMCID: PMC2742599  PMID: 19193712
amygdala; chronic stress; connectivity; infralimbic cortex; neural plasticity; spine density
The Journal of comparative neurology  2008;507(1):1141-1150.
Anatomical alterations in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) are associated with hypothalamo-pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis dysregulation, altered stress hormone levels, and psychiatric symptoms of stress-related mental illnesses. Functional imaging studies reveal impairment and shrinkage of the mPFC in such conditions, and these findings are paralleled by experimental studies showing dendritic retraction and spine loss following repeated stress in rodents. Here we extend this characterization to how repeated stress affects dendritic spine morphology in mPFC through the utilization of an automated approach which rapidly digitizes, reconstructs 3-dimensionally, and calculates geometric features of neurons. Rats were perfused after being subjected to 3 weeks of daily restraint stress (6 hours/day), and intracellular injections of Lucifer Yellow were made in layers II/III pyramidal neurons in the dorsal mPFC. To reveal spines in all angles of orientation, deconvolved high-resolution confocal laser scanning microscopy image stacks of dendritic segments were reconstructed and analyzed for spine volume, surface area, and length using a Rayburst-based automated approach (8,091 and 8,987 spines for control and stress, respectively). We found that repeated stress results in an overall decrease in mean dendritic spine volume and surface area, which was most pronounced in the distal portion of apical dendritic fields. Moreover, we observed an overall shift in the population of spines, manifested by a reduction in large spines and increase in small spines. These results suggest a failure of spines to mature and stabilize following repeated stress, and are likely to have major repercussions on function, receptor expression, and synaptic efficacy.
PMCID: PMC2796421  PMID: 18157834
dendritic spine; morphometry; plasticity; prefrontal cortex; stress

Results 1-4 (4)