Enkephalin downregulation in the nucleus accumbens underlies chronic stress-induced anhedonia (2014)

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Stress. 2014 Jan;17(1):88-96. doi: 10.3109/10253890.2013.850669. Epub 2013 Oct 31.

Poulin JF1, Laforest S, Drolet G.


Restraint and immobilization have been extensively used to study habituation of the neuroendocrine response to a repeated stressor, but behavioral consequences of this stress regimen remain largely uncharacterized.

In this study, we used sucrose preference and the elevated-plus maze to probe behavioral alterations resulting from 14 days of restraint in rats. We observed a decrease in sucrose preference in stressed animals, particularly in a subgroup of individuals, but no alteration in anxiety behaviors (as measured in the elevated-plus maze) four days following the last restraint.

In these low-sucrose preference animals, we observed a downregulation of the expression of preproenkephalin mRNA in the nucleus accumbens. Furthermore, we observed a strong correlation between enkephalin expression and sucrose preference in the shell part of the nucleus accumbens, with a lower level of enkephalin expression being associated with lower sucrose preference. Interestingly, quantification of the corticosterone response revealed a delayed habituation to restraint in the low-sucrose preference population, which suggests that vulnerability to stress-induced deficits might be associated with prolonged exposure to glucocorticoids.

The induction of ΔFosB is also reduced in the nucleus accumbens shell of the low-sucrose preference population and this transcription factor is expressed in enkephalin neurons. Taken together, these results suggest that a ΔFosB-mediated downregulation of enkephalin in the nucleus accumbens might underlie the susceptibility to chronic stress. Further experiments will be needed to determine causality between these two phenomena.