We investigated the effect of chronic stress on synaptic responses of rat dentate granule cells to perforant path stimulation. Rats were subjected for 3 wk to unpredictable stressors twice daily or to control handling. One day after the last stressor, hippocampal slices were prepared and synaptic responses were determined with whole-cell recording. At that time, adrenal weight was found to be increased and thymus weight as well as gain in body weight were decreased in the stressed versus control animals, indicative of corticosterone hypersecretion during the stress period. In slices from rats with basal corticosteroid levels (at the circadian trough, under rest), no effect of prior stress exposure was observed on synaptic responses. However, synaptic responses of dentate granule cells from chronically stressed and control rats were differently affected by in vitro activation of glucocorticoid receptors, i.e., 1–4 h after administration of 100 nM corticosterone for 20 min. Thus the maximal response to synaptic activation of dentate cells at holding potential of −70 mV [when N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptors are blocked by magnesium] was significantly enhanced after corticosterone administration in chronically stressed but not in control animals. In accordance, the amplitude of α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methylisolazole-4-propionic acid (AMPA) but not of NMDA receptor-mediated currents was increased by corticosterone in stressed rats, over the entire voltage range. Corticosterone treatment also decreased the time to peak of AMPA currents, but this effect did not depend on prior stress exposure. The data indicate that following chronic stress exposure synaptic excitation of dentate granule cells may be enhanced when corticosterone levels rise. This enhanced synaptic flow could contribute to enhanced excitation of projection areas of the dentate gyrus, most notably the CA3 hippocampal region.
Address for reprint requests: H. Karst, Section Neurobiology, SILS; University of Amsterdam, Kruislaan 320, 1098 SM Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
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