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PTSD, animal model, stress, HPA axis, corticosterone

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Incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) ranges from 3 to 30% in individuals exposed to traumatic events, with the highest prevalence in groups exposed to combat, torture, or rape. To date, only a few FDA approved drugs are available to treat PTSD, which only offer symptomatic relief and variable efficacy. There is, therefore, an urgent need to explore new concepts regarding the biological responses causing PTSD. Animal models are an appropriate platform for conducting such studies. Herein, we examined the chronic behavioral and neurobiological effects of repeated unpredictable stress (RUS) in a mouse model. 12 weeks-old C57BL/6J male mice were exposed to a 21-day RUS paradigm consisting of exposures to a predator odor (TMT) whilst under restraint, unstable social housing, inescapable footshocks and social isolation. Validity of the model was assessed by comprehensive examination of behavioral outcomes at an acute timepoint, 3 and 6 months post-RUS; and molecular profiling was also conducted on brain and plasma samples at the acute and 6 months timepoints. Stressed mice demonstrated recall of traumatic memories, passive stress coping behavior, acute anxiety, and weight gain deficits when compared to control mice. Immunoblotting of amygdala lysates showed a dysregulation in the p75NTR/ProBDNF, and glutamatergic signaling in stressed mice at the acute timepoint. At 6 months after RUS, stressed mice had lower plasma corticosterone, reduced hippocampal CA1 volume and reduced brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels. In addition, glucocorticoid regulatory protein FKBP5 was downregulated in the hypothalamus of stressed mice at the same timepoint, together implicating an impaired hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal-axis. Our model demonstrates chronic behavioral and neurobiological outcomes consistent with those reported in human PTSD cases and thus presents a platform through which to understand the neurobiology of stress and explore new therapeutic interventions.

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Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, v. 12, art. 150

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