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Reduced anterior cingulate cortex volume induced by chronic stress correlates with increased behavioral emotionality and decreased synaptic puncta density

By Keith A Misquitta, Amy Miles, Thomas Damien Prevot, Jaime K. Knoch, Corey Fee, Dwight F. Newton, Jacob Ellegood, Jason P. Lerch, Etienne Sibille, Yuliya Nikolova, Mounira Banasr

Posted 01 Sep 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.08.31.275750

Clinical and preclinical studies report that chronic stress induces behavioral deficits as well as volumetric and synaptic alterations in corticolimbic brain regions including the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), amygdala (AMY), nucleus accumbens (NAc) and hippocampus (HPC). Here, we aimed to investigate the volumetric changes associated with chronic restraint stress (CRS) and link these changes to the CRS-induced behavioral and synaptic deficits. We first confirmed that CRS increases behavioral emotionality, defined as collective scoring of anxiety- and anhedonia-like behaviors. We then demonstrated that CRS induced a reduction of total brain volume which negatively correlated with behavioral emotionality. Region-specific analysis identified that only the ACC showed significant decrease in volume following CRS (p<0.05). Reduced ACC correlated with increased behavioral emotionality (r=-0.56; p=0.0003). Although not significantly altered by CRS, AMY and NAc (but not the HPC) volumes were negatively correlated with behavioral emotionality. Finally, using structural covariance network analysis to assess shared volumetric variances between the corticolimbic brain regions and associated structures, we found a progressive decreased ACC degree and increased AMY degree following CRS. At the cellular level, reduced ACC volume correlated with decreased PSD95 (but not VGLUT1) puncta density (r=0.35, p<0.05), which also correlated with increased behavioral emotionality (r=-0.44, p<0.01), suggesting that altered synaptic strength is an underlying substrate of CRS volumetric and behavioral effects. Our results demonstrate that CRS effects on ACC volume and synaptic density are linked to behavioral emotionality and highlight key ACC structural and morphological alterations relevant to stress-related illnesses including mood and anxiety disorders.

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