Pawluski JL, Paravatou R, Even A, Cobraiville G, Fillet M, Kokras N, Dalla C, Charlier TD. Effect of sertraline on central serotonin and hippocampal plasticity in pregnant and non-pregnant rats. Neuropharmacology. 2020;166:107950.Abstract
One of the most frequently prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor medications (SSRIs) for peripartum mood and anxiety disorders is sertraline (Zoloft®). Sertraline can help alleviate mood and anxiety symptoms in many women but it is not known how sertraline, or SSRIs in general, affect the neurobiology of the brain particularly when pregnant. The aim of this study was to investigate how sertraline affects plasticity in the hippocampus, a brain area integral in depression and SSRI efficacy (particularly in males), during late pregnancy and whether these effects differ from the effects of sertraline in non-pregnant females. To do this pregnant and age-matched non-pregnant female Sprague-Dawley rats were used. For the last half of pregnancy (10 days), and at matched points in non-pregnant females, rats were given sertraline (2.5 mg/kg/day or 10 mg/kg/day) or vehicle (0 mg/kg/day). Brains were used to investigate effects on the serotonergic system in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex and measures of neuroplasticity in the hippocampus. Results show that pregnant females have significantly higher serum levels of sertraline compared to non-pregnant females but that rates of serotonin turnover in the hippocampus and PFC are similar between pregnant and non-pregnant females. Sertraline increased synaptophysin density in the dentate gyrus and CA3 and was associated with a decrease in cell proliferation in the dentate gyrus of non-pregnant, but not pregnant, females. During late pregnancy the hippocampus showed significant reductions in neurogenesis and increases in synaptophysin density. This research highlights the need to consider the unique effect of reproductive state on the neuropharmacology of SSRIs.
Karkoula E, Dagla I-V, Baira E, Kokras N, Dalla C, Skaltsounis A-L, Gikas E, Tsarbopoulos A. A novel UHPLC-HRMS-based metabolomics strategy enables the discovery of potential neuroactive metabolites in mice plasma, following i.p. administration of the main Crocus sativus L. bioactive component. J Pharm Biomed Anal. 2020;177:112878.Abstract
Trans-crocin 4 (TC4) is an important carotenoid constituent of saffron showing potential activity against Alzheimer's Disease (AD) due to its antioxidant and antiamyloidogenic properties. Metabolomics is an emerging scientific field that enhances biomarker discovery and reveals underlying biochemical mechanisms aiming towards the early subclinical diagnosis of diseases. To date, there are no reports on the changes induced to mice plasma metabolome after TC4 administration. We report a novel untargeted UHPLC-ESI HRMS metabolomics strategy to determine the alteration of the metabolic fingerprint following i.p. administration of TC4 in male and female mice. Blood samples from fiftysix mice treated with TC4 as well as from control animals were analyzed with UHPLC-ESI HRMS. Statistical evaluation of the results was achieved by multivariate analysis (MVA), i.e., principal component analysis (PCA), Partial Least Squares-Discriminant Analysis (PLS-DA) in order to discover the variables that contributed to the discrimination between treated and untreated groups which were identified by online database searching (e.g., Metlin, HMDB, KEGG) aided by chemometric processing, e.g., covariance searching etc. Due to the high variability imposed by various factors, e.g., sex of the animals participating in the study, administration dose and time-points of sacrifice, multilevel sparse PLS-DA analysis, e.g., splitting variation to each individual component, has been employed as a more efficient approach for such designs. This methodology allowed the identification of the time sequence of metabolome changes due to the administration of TC4, whereas a sex-related effect on the metabolome is indicated, denoting that the administration in both sexes is indispensable in order to acquire safe conclusions as reliable metabolome pictures. The results demonstrated a number of annotated metabolites playing a potential role in neuroprotection while they are closely related to AD. Moreover, five additional annotated metabolites were involved in the steroid biosynthesis pathway while two of them may be considered as putative neuroprotective agents.
Poulia N, Delis F, Brakatselos C, Lekkas P, Kokras N, Dalla C, Antoniou K. Escalating low-dose Δ -tetrahydrocannabinol exposure during adolescence induces differential behavioral and neurochemical effects in male and female adult rats. Eur J Neurosci. 2019.Abstract
Cannabinoid administration during adolescence affects various physiological processes, such as motor and affective response, cognitive-related functions and modulates neurotransmitter activity. Literature remains scant concerning the parallel examination of the effects of adolescent escalating low-dose Δ -tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ -THC) on the behavioral and plasticity profile of adult rats in both sexes. Herein, we investigated the long-term behavioral, neurochemical and neurobiological effects of adolescent escalating low Δ -THC doses in adult male and female rats. In adult males, adolescent low-dose Δ -THC exposure led to increased spontaneous locomotor activity, impaired behavioral motor habituation and defective short-term spatial memory, paralleled with decreased BDNF protein levels in the prefrontal cortex. In this brain area, serotonergic activity was increased, as depicted by the increased serotonin turnover rate, while the opposite effect was observed in the hippocampus, a region where SERT levels were enhanced by Δ -THC, compared with vehicle. In adult females, adolescent Δ -THC treatment led to decreased spontaneous vertical activity and impaired short-term spatial memory, accompanied by increased BDNF protein levels in the prefrontal cortex. Present findings emphasize the key role of adolescent escalating low Δ -THC exposure in the long-term regulation of motor response, spatial-related cognitive functions and neuroplasticity indices in adulthood. In this framework, these changes could, at a translational level, contribute to clinical issues suggesting the development of psychopathology in a sex-differentiated manner following Δ -THC exposure during adolescence.
Kokras N, Hodes GE, Bangasser DA, Dalla C. Sex differences in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis: An obstacle to antidepressant drug development?. Br J Pharmacol. 2019;176(21):4090-4106.Abstract
Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis dysfunction has long been implicated in the pathophysiology of depression, and HPA axis-based compounds have served as potential new therapeutic targets, but with no success. This review details sex differences from animal and human studies in the function of HPA axis elements (glucocorticoids, corticotropin releasing factor, and vasopressin) and related compounds tested as candidate antidepressants. We propose that sex differences contribute to the failure of novel HPA axis-based drugs in clinical trials. Compounds studied preclinically in males were tested in clinical trials that recruited more, if not exclusively, women, and did not control, but rather adjusted, for potential sex differences. Indeed, clinical trials of antidepressants are usually not stratified by sex or other important factors, although preclinical and epidemiological data support such stratification. In conclusion, we suggest that clinical testing of HPA axis-related compounds creates an opportunity for targeted, personalized antidepressant treatments based on sex. LINKED ARTICLES: This article is part of a themed section on The Importance of Sex Differences in Pharmacology Research. To view the other articles in this section visit
Kokras N, Papadopoulou E, Georgiopoulos G, Dalla C, Petropoulos I, Kontogiannis C, Laina A, Bampatsias D, Stellos K, Kouzoupis AV, et al. The effect of treatment response on endothelial function and arterial stiffness in depression. A prospective study. J Affect Disord. 2019;252:190-200.Abstract
BACKGROUND: Major depression is associated with endothelial dysfunction and arterial stiffening, which may mediate development of hypertension and increased cardiovascular risk. The effect of response to antidepressant treatment on these vascular parameters has not been elucidated. AIMS: We aimed to assess the net effect of antidepressant therapy on endothelial function and arterial stiffness in patients with psychotic depression. METHOD: Thirty-seven patients with major psychotic depression, according to DSM-IV-TR, were treated with titrated citalopram 20-60 mg and risperidone 0.5-1 mg and were followed for 6 months. Twelve additional patients who denied treatment, or were non-compliant, were also followed for the same time period. Vascular function was assessed by flow-mediated dilatation (FMD), carotid-femoral pulse wave velocity (PWV) and augmentation index (AI), at baseline and at the end of follow-up. RESULTS: Aortic and peripheral blood pressure (BP), PWV, FMD and AI (p < 0.05 for all) were significantly improved in the group that received treatment. Overall, only responders to treatment (n = 24) presented significant improvements in all hemodynamic and vascular parameters (p < 0.05 for all), irrespectively of traditional cardiovascular risk factors (TRFs), vasoactive medication and BP lowering. In a secondary analysis, patients with psychotic depression presented worse endothelial function as compared to controls matched for TRFs. LIMITATIONS: Non-randomized study. CONCLUSIONS: Patients who respond to therapy for major psychotic depression present sustained improvement in vascular function. Given that depressed patients are considered to be at high cardiovascular risk and are often non-compliant with treatment, further research to assess cardiovascular benefits of vigilant monitoring of antidepressant therapy is warranted.
Dioli C, Patrício P, Sousa N, Kokras N, Dalla C, Guerreiro S, Santos-Silva MA, Rego AC, Pinto L, Ferreiro E, et al. Chronic stress triggers divergent dendritic alterations in immature neurons of the adult hippocampus, depending on their ultimate terminal fields. Transl Psychiatry. 2019;9(1):143.Abstract
Chronic stress, a suggested precipitant of brain pathologies, such as depression and Alzheimer's disease, is known to impact on brain plasticity by causing neuronal remodeling as well as neurogenesis suppression in the adult hippocampus. Although many studies show that stressful conditions reduce the number of newborn neurons in the adult dentate gyrus (DG), little is known about whether and how stress impacts on dendritic development and structural maturation of these newborn neurons. We, herein, demonstrate that chronic stress impacts differentially on doublecortin (DCX)-positive immature neurons in distinct phases of maturation. Specifically, the density of the DCX-positive immature neurons whose dendritic tree reaches the inner molecular layer (IML) of DG is reduced in stressed animals, whereas their dendritic complexity is increased. On the contrary, no change on the density of DCX-positive neurons whose dendritic tree extends to the medial/outer molecular layer (M/OML) of the DG is found under stress conditions, whereas the dendritic complexity of these cells is diminished. In addition, DCX+ cells displayed a more complex and longer arbor in the dendritic compartments located in the granular cell layer of the DG under stress conditions; on the contrary, their dendritic segments localized into the M/OML were shorter and less complex. These findings suggest that the neuroplastic effects of chronic stress on dendritic maturation and complexity of DCX+ immature neurons vary based on the different maturation stage of DCX-positive cells and the different DG sublayer, highlighting the complex and dynamic stress-driven neuroplasticity of immature neurons in the adult hippocampus.
Kokras N, Sotiropoulos I, Besinis D, Tzouveka EL, Almeida OFX, Sousa N, Dalla C. Neuroplasticity-related correlates of environmental enrichment combined with physical activity differ between the sexes. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2019;29(1):1-15.Abstract
Environmental enrichment (EE), comprising positive physical (exercise) and cognitive stimuli, influences neuronal structure and usually improves brain function. The promise of EE as a preventative strategy against neuropsychiatric disease is especially high during early postnatal development when the brain is still amenable to reorganization. Despite the fact that male and female brains differ in terms of connectivity and function that may reflect early life experiences, knowledge of the neural substrates and mechanisms by which such changes arise remains limited. This study compared the impact of EE combined with physical activity on neuroplasticity and its functional consequences in adult male and female rats; EE was provided during the first 3 months of life and our analysis focused on the hippocampus, an area implicated in cognitive behavior as well as the neuroendocrine response to stress. Both male and female rats reared in EE displayed better object recognition memory than their control counterparts. Interestingly, sex differences were revealed in the effects of EE on time spent exploring the objects during this test. Independently of sex, EE increased hippocampal turnover rates of dopamine and serotonin and reduced expression of 5-HT receptors; in addition, EE upregulated expression of synaptophysin, a presynaptic protein, in the hippocampus. As compared to their respective controls, EE-exposed males exhibited parallel increases in phosphorylated Tau and the GluN2B receptor, whereas females responded to EE with reduced hippocampal levels of glutamate and GluN2B. Together, these observations provide further evidence on the differential effects of EE on markers of hippocampal neuroplasticity in males and females.
Balta G, Dalla C, Kokras N. Women's Psychiatry. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2019;1192:225-249.Abstract
Brain disorders and mental diseases, in particular, are common and considered as a top global health challenge for the twenty-first century. Interestingly, women suffer more frequently from mental disorders than men. Moreover, women may respond to psychotropic drugs differently than men, and, through their lifespan, they endure sex-orientated social stressors. In this chapter, we present how women may differ in the development and manifestation of mental health issues and how they differ from men in pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics. We discuss issues in clinical trials regarding women participation, issues in the use of psychotropic medications in pregnancy, and challenges that psychiatry faces as a result of the wider use of contraceptives, of childbearing at older age, and of menopause. Such issues, among others, demand further women-oriented psychiatric research that can improve the care for women during the course of their lives. Indeed, despite all these known sex differences, psychiatry for both men and women patients uses the same approach. Thereby, a modified paradigm for women's psychiatry, which takes into account all these differences, emerges as a necessity, and psychiatric research should take more vigorously into account sex differences.
Gemmel M, Kokras N, Dalla C, Pawluski JL. Perinatal fluoxetine prevents the effect of pre-gestational maternal stress on 5-HT in the PFC, but maternal stress has enduring effects on mPFC synaptic structure in offspring. Neuropharmacology. 2018;128:168-180.Abstract
Maternal affective disorders are frequently treated with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor medications (SSRIs); with up to 10% of women being prescribed these medications during pregnancy. Infant development depends on the early serotonergic environment, which is altered by perinatal SSRIs, raising concern about how these medications affect neural outcomes. While clinical and preclinical research suggests an impact of SSRIs on the developing brain, more research is needed to determine the effects on neuroplasticity, the serotonergic system, and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in neural regions mediating behavior. The current work investigated the effects of the SSRI, fluoxetine, on the serotonergic system in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) during pre-adolescence, and changes to synaptic markers and glucocorticoid receptor density in the cingulate cortex (medial PFC) of pre-adolescent and adult Sprague-Dawley male and female rats. To model aspects of Perinatal Depression and maternal anxiety, pre-gestational maternal stress was used resulting in male and female offspring from 4 groups: 1) control, 2) perinatal fluoxetine exposed, 3) pre-gestational maternal stress exposed, and 4) pre-gestational maternal stress + fluoxetine. Perinatal fluoxetine prevented the effects of maternal stress on 5-HT levels and 5-HT turnover ratio in the PFC of pre-adolescent offspring, particularly in females. However, pre-gestational stress reduced synaptophysin and PSD-95 densities in the cingulate cortex, effects that were more pronounced in males. Interestingly, perinatal fluoxetine exposure reduced GR density in adult males in this same brain area. Together, results show differential effects of perinatal SSRIs and pre-gestational maternal stress on neurodevelopment in the PFC of males and females.
Kokras N, Pastromas N, Papasava D, de Bournonville C, Cornil CA, Dalla C. Sex differences in behavioral and neurochemical effects of gonadectomy and aromatase inhibition in rats. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2018;87:93-107.Abstract
Aromatase inhibitors, which are widely used for the treatment of estrogen-dependent cancers, have been associated with psychiatric side effects ranging from mania to depression. In the present study, we investigated sex differences in the behavioral and neurochemical effects of aromatase inhibition on male and female, sham-operated or gonadectomized adult rats. Three weeks after surgery, rats received chronic treatment with the aromatase inhibitor letrozole or vehicle and were then subjected to the open field test, which assesses general activity. Half of the subjects were subsequently exposed to the stressful procedure of the forced swim test (FST), which is also a test of antidepressant activity. Aromatase activity was analyzed in the hypothalamus and testosterone and corticosterone were assayed in the blood serum of all rats. The hippocampus and prefrontal cortex (PFC) were analyzed for monoamine (noradrenaline, dopamine and serotonin), as well as amino acid (GABA, glutamate, glycine, taurine, alanine and histidine) levels. The observed decrease in hypothalamic aromatase activity confirmed the efficacy of letrozole treatment in both sexes. Moreover, letrozole enhanced testosterone levels in sham-operated females. In the open field test, females were overall more active and explorative than males and gonadectomy eliminated this sex difference. In the FST, females exhibited overall higher immobility than males and gonadectomy further enhanced this passive behavior in both sexes. However, sustained aromatase inhibition had no effect on open field and FST behaviors. Head shakes during FST, which were fewer in females than in males, were reduced by castration in males and by letrozole treatment in ovariectomized females, suggesting a role of testosterone and extra-gonadal estrogens in the expression of this behavior. Sustained aromatase inhibition also decreased noradrenaline and the dopaminergic turnover rates [DOPAC/DA, HVA/DA] in the hippocampus and PFC of male and female rats, irrespectively of gonadectomy. Moreover, letrozole treatment enhanced the serotonergic turnover [5HIAA/5HT] rate in the hippocampus of males and females, irrespectively of gonadectomy. Amino acid levels were not influenced by letrozole, but sex differences were demonstrated with higher levels in the PFC of females vs. males. Present findings suggest that the neuropsychiatric effects of aromatase inhibition can be attributed to the inhibition of extragonadal estrogen synthesis, presumably in the brain, and could be further associated with serotonergic and catecholaminergic changes in brain regions involved in mood and cognition. Importantly, present data could be linked with the neurobiology of affective side-effects in post-menopausal women receiving aromatase inhibitors.
Kafetzopoulos V, Kokras N, Sotiropoulos I, Oliveira JF, Leite-Almeida H, Vasalou A, Sardinha VM, Papadopoulou-Daifoti Z, Almeida OFX, Antoniou K, et al. The nucleus reuniens: a key node in the neurocircuitry of stress and depression. Mol Psychiatry. 2018;23(3):579-586.Abstract
The hippocampus and prefrontal cortex (PFC) are connected in a reciprocal manner: whereas the hippocampus projects directly to the PFC, a polysynaptic pathway that passes through the nucleus reuniens (RE) of the thalamus relays inputs from the PFC to the hippocampus. The present study demonstrates that lesioning and/or inactivation of the RE reduces coherence in the PFC-hippocampal pathway, provokes an antidepressant-like behavioral response in the forced swim test and prevents, but does not ameliorate, anhedonia in the chronic mild stress (CMS) model of depression. Additionally, RE lesioning before CMS abrogates the well-known neuromorphological and endocrine correlates of CMS. In summary, this work highlights the importance of the reciprocal connectivity between the hippocampus and PFC in the establishment of stress-induced brain pathology and suggests a role for the RE in promoting resilience to depressive illness.
Karkoula E, Lemonakis N, Kokras N, Dalla C, Gikas E, Skaltsounis A-L, Tsarbopoulos A. Trans-crocin 4 is not hydrolyzed to crocetin following i.p. administration in mice, while it shows penetration through the blood brain barrier. Fitoterapia. 2018;129:62-72.Abstract
A novel, fit-for-purpose, highly sensitive, analytical UPLC-PDA methodology was developed and fully validated, according to ICH, FDA and EMA guidelines, for the rapid and accurate quantification of trans-crocin 4 (TC4) and crocetin (CRC) in mice plasma and brain after i.p. administration. A PDA based methodology shows a wider applicability as it is cost effective and can be easily and seamlessly adopted by the pharma industry. The separation of the analytes was performed on a C18 Hypersil Gold column with 2.5 min run time, employing the internal standard (ISTD) methodology. The two methods were successfully applied for the determination of CRC and TC4 in mouse plasma and brain after i.p. administration of TC4 (50 mg/kg) in a time range of 0-240 min. Due to the selection of i.p. administration route, the first-pass metabolism and/or gastric hydrolysis were bypassed, a fact that enhanced the bioavailability of TC4. Furthermore, TC4 was found to be capable of crossing the Blood Brain Barrier (BBB) and build up levels in the mouse brain, regardless of its highly hydrophilic character. CRC was not detected in any plasma or brain sample, although it has been reported that TC4 quickly hydrolyzes to CRC after p.o. administration. Therefore i.p. administration could be used in the case of TC4 for the accurate determination of its biological role. Overall, the developed methodology offers important information about the bioavailability of TC4 in mouse plasma and for the first time, demonstrates the ability of TC4 to penetrate the BBB and localize inside the brain.
Chrousos GP, Pervanidou P, Dalla C. Mini-reviews based on the First Conference of the Institute of Stress Biology & Medicine "Systems Biology-Medicine and Stress". Hormones (Athens). 2018;17(1):3-4.
Gemmel M, Hazlett M, Bögi E, De Lacalle S, Hill LA, Kokras N, Hammond GL, Dalla C, Charlier TD, Pawluski JL. Perinatal fluoxetine effects on social play, the HPA system, and hippocampal plasticity in pre-adolescent male and female rats: Interactions with pre-gestational maternal stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2017;84:159-171.Abstract
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor medications (SSRIs) are the first lines of treatment for maternal affective disorders, and are prescribed to up to 10% of pregnant women. Concern has been raised about how perinatal exposure to these medications affect offspring neurobehavioral outcomes, particularly those related to social interactions, as recent research has reported conflicting results related to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) risk in children prenatally exposed to SSRIs. Therefore, the aim of this work was to investigate the effects of perinatal exposure to the SSRI fluoxetine on social play behaviors and the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal system, using a model of pre-gestational maternal stress. We also investigated synaptic proteins in the CA2, CA3, and dentate gyrus of the hippocampus, as well as number of immature neurons in the granule cell layer, as both measures of plasticity in the hippocampus have been linked to social behaviors. In pre-adolescent male and female Sprague-Dawley rat offspring, main findings show that perinatal fluoxetine prevents the negative effect of maternal stress on sibling play behavior. However, perinatal fluoxetine increased social aggressive play with a novel conspecific in both sexes and decreased time grooming a novel conspecific in males only. Perinatal fluoxetine also increased serum corticosteroid binding globulin levels, 5-HT levels in the hippocampus, and pre-synaptic density assessed via synaptophysin in the dentate gyrus. Social interaction was significantly correlated with changes in plasticity in the CA2 region of the hippocampus. Pre-gestational maternal stress exposure resulted in significantly decreased rates of hippocampal neurogenesis and synaptophysin density in the dentate gyrus of pre-adolescent males, but not females. Together, these results further characterize the role of perinatal SSRIs, maternal stress prior to conception, and sex/gender on developing social behaviors and related plasticity in the hippocampus of pre-adolescent offspring.
Kokras N, Polissidis A, Antoniou K, Dalla C. Head shaking in the forced swim test: A robust but unexplored sex difference. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2017;152:90-96.Abstract
Preclinical psychopharmacology research needs novel behavioral indices and improved animal models for both sexes. The forced swim test (FST) is the most popular test for screening antidepressant potential. Sex differences in FST behaviors, such as immobility and swimming, are not consistent among laboratories. Reliable indices, sensitive to sex differences, are required. We identified a robust sex difference in the frequency of headshakes during the standard two session FST, with male rats exhibiting higher number of head shakes than females. Furthermore, we explored whether strain, ageing, sex- and stress-hormone levels influence this sex difference. Experiments in middle-aged and senescent Wistar rats, as well as in gonadectomized and adrenalectomized with corticosterone replacement young adult males and females, revealed that sex differences in headshakes during FST are not influenced by age or corticosterone, but are abolished following castration of male rats. Interestingly, headshake frequency correlated positively with testosterone, but not corticosterone levels. Finally, testing of Flinders Sensitive Line (FSL) and Sprague-Dawley (SD) rats in a single 5min FST session revealed that headshake frequency is sensitive to antidepressant treatment with female rats exhibiting opposite responses to treatment than male FSL rats. Mirtazapine, a 5-HT2 antagonist, enhanced headshakes in females and decreased them in male FSL rats. Based on current data and the available literature, sex differences in headshake frequency should be linked to analogous sex differences in serotonin receptors. Headshake frequency during the FST is an additional valuable behavioral index, sensitive to sex differences, gonadal hormones and antidepressants modulating serotonin receptors.
Spathis AD, Asvos X, Ziavra D, Karampelas T, Topouzis S, Cournia Z, Qing X, Alexakos P, Smits LM, Dalla C, et al. Nurr1:RXRα heterodimer activation as monotherapy for Parkinson's disease. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017;114(15):3999-4004.Abstract
Parkinson's disease (PD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder characterized by the loss of dopaminergic (DAergic) neurons in the substantia nigra and the gradual depletion of dopamine (DA). Current treatments replenish the DA deficit and improve symptoms but induce dyskinesias over time, and neuroprotective therapies are nonexistent. Here we report that Nuclear receptor-related 1 (Nurr1):Retinoid X receptor α (RXRα) activation has a double therapeutic potential for PD, offering both neuroprotective and symptomatic improvement. We designed BRF110, a unique in vivo active Nurr1:RXRα-selective lead molecule, which prevents DAergic neuron demise and striatal DAergic denervation in vivo against PD-causing toxins in a Nurr1-dependent manner. BRF110 also protects against PD-related genetic mutations in patient induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-derived DAergic neurons and a genetic mouse PD model. Remarkably, besides neuroprotection, BRF110 up-regulates tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), aromatic l-amino acid decarboxylase (AADC), and GTP cyclohydrolase I (GCH1) transcription; increases striatal DA in vivo; and has symptomatic efficacy in two postneurodegeneration PD models, without inducing dyskinesias on chronic daily treatment. The combined neuroprotective and symptomatic effects of BRF110 identify Nurr1:RXRα activation as a potential monotherapeutic approach for PD.
Kokras N, Dalla C. Preclinical sex differences in depression and antidepressant response: Implications for clinical research. J Neurosci Res. 2017;95(1-2):731-736.Abstract
Women suffer from depression and anxiety disorders more often than men, and as a result they receive antidepressants to a greater extent. Sex differences in antidepressant response in humans have been modestly studied, and results have been controversial. At the same time, preclinical studies on animal models of depression and antidepressant response have provided insights with regard to sex differences that could be useful for the design and interpretation of future clinical trials. This Mini-Review discusses such sex-differentiated findings with regard to the presentation of depression, endophenotypes, and antidepressant response. In particular, men and women differ in symptomatology of depression, and animal models of depression have revealed sex differences in behavioral indices. However, although in experimental studies behavioral indices and models are adjusted to identify sex differences properly, this is not the case in the use of depression rating scales in clinical studies. Accordingly, preclinical studies highlight the importance of sex differences at the baseline behavioral response and the underlying mechanisms that often converge after antidepressant treatment. This is also a neglected issue in human studies. Finally, preclinical research suggests that, in the quest for potential biomarkers for depression, sex should be an important factor to consider. Careful consideration of sex differences in preclinical research could facilitate and ameliorate the design and quality of clinical studies for disease biomarkers and novel fast-acting antidepressants that are so essential for both men and women suffering from depression. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Carvalho MM, Campos FL, Marques M, Soares-Cunha C, Kokras N, Dalla C, Leite-Almeida H, Sousa N, Salgado AJ. Effect of Levodopa on Reward and Impulsivity in a Rat Model of Parkinson's Disease. Front Behav Neurosci. 2017;11:145.Abstract
The use of dopamine replacement therapies (DRT) in the treatment of Parkinson's disease (PD) can lead to the development of dopamine dysregulation syndrome (DDS) and impulse control disorders (ICD), behavioral disturbances characterized by compulsive DRT self-medication and development of impulsive behaviors. However, the mechanisms behind these disturbances are poorly understood. In animal models of PD, the assessment of the rewarding properties of levodopa (LD), one of the most common drugs used in PD, has produced conflicting results, and its ability to promote increased impulsivity is still understudied. Moreover, it is unclear whether acute and chronic LD therapy differently affects reward and impulsivity. In this study we aimed at assessing, in an animal model of PD with bilateral mesostriatal and mesocorticolimbic degeneration, the behavioral effects of LD therapy regarding reward and impulsivity. Animals with either sham or 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA)-induced bilateral lesions in the (SNc) and ventral tegmental area (VTA) were exposed to acute and chronic LD treatment. We used the conditioned place preference (CPP) paradigm to evaluate the rewarding effects of LD, whereas impulsive behavior was measured with the variable delay-to-signal (VDS) task. Correlation analyses between behavioral measurements of reward or impulsivity and lesion extent in SNc/VTA were performed to pinpoint possible anatomical links of LD-induced behavioral changes. We show that LD, particularly when administered chronically, caused the development of impulsive-like behaviors in 6-OHDA-lesioned animals in the VDS. However, neither acute or chronic LD administration had rewarding effects in 6-OHDA-lesioned animals in the CPP. Our results show that in a bilateral rat model of PD, LD leads to the development of impulsive behaviors, strengthening the association between DRT and DDS/ICD in PD.
Kokras N, Baltas D, Theocharis F, Dalla C. Kinoscope: An Open-Source Computer Program for Behavioral Pharmacologists. Front Behav Neurosci. 2017;11:88.Abstract
Behavioral analysis in preclinical neuropsychopharmacology relies on the accurate measurement of animal behavior. Several excellent solutions for computer-assisted behavioral analysis are available for specialized behavioral laboratories wishing to invest significant resources. Herein, we present an open source straightforward software solution aiming at the rapid and easy introduction to an experimental workflow, and at the improvement of training staff members in a better and more reproducible manual scoring of behavioral experiments with the use of visual aids-maps. Currently the program readily supports the Forced Swim Test, Novel Object Recognition test and the Elevated Plus maze test, but with minor modifications can be used for scoring virtually any behavioral test. Additional modules, with predefined templates and scoring parameters, are continuously added. Importantly, the prominent use of visual maps has been shown to improve, in a student-engaging manner, the training and auditing of scoring in behavioral rodent experiments.
Gemmel M, Rayen I, Lotus T, van Donkelaar E, Steinbusch HW, De Lacalle S, Kokras N, Dalla C, Pawluski JL. Developmental fluoxetine and prenatal stress effects on serotonin, dopamine, and synaptophysin density in the PFC and hippocampus of offspring at weaning. Dev Psychobiol. 2016;58(3):315-27.Abstract
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor medication exposure during the perinatal period can have a long term impact in adult offspring on neuroplasticity and the serotonergic system, but the impact of these medications during early development is poorly understood. The aim of this study was to determine the effects of developmental exposure to the SSRI, fluoxetine, on the serotonergic system, dopaminergic system, and synaptophysin density in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, as well as number of immature neurons in the dentate gyrus, in juvenile rat offspring at weaning. To model aspects of maternal depression, prenatal restraint stress was used. Sprague-Dawley rat offspring were exposed to either prenatal stress and/or fluoxetine. Main findings show that developmental fluoxetine exposure to prenatally stressed offspring decreased 5-HT and 5-HIAA levels and altered the dopaminergic system in the hippocampus. Prenatal stress, regardless of fluoxetine, increased synaptophysin density in the PFC. This work indicates that early exposure to maternal stress and SSRI medication can alter brain monoamine levels and synaptophysin density in offspring at weaning.
Gemmel M, Rayen I, van Donkelaar E, Loftus T, Steinbusch HW, Kokras N, Dalla C, Pawluski JL. Gestational stress and fluoxetine treatment differentially affect plasticity, methylation and serotonin levels in the PFC and hippocampus of rat dams. Neuroscience. 2016;327:32-43.Abstract
Women are more likely to develop depression during childbearing years with up to 20% of women suffering from depression during pregnancy and in the postpartum period. Increased prevalence of depression during the perinatal period has resulted in frequent selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant treatment; however the effects of such medications on the maternal brain remain limited. Therefore, the aim of the present study is to investigate the effects of the SSRI medication, fluoxetine, on neurobiological differences in the maternal brain. To model aspects of maternal depression, gestational stress was used. Sprague-Dawley rat dams were exposed to either gestational stress and/or fluoxetine (5mg/kg/day) to form the following four groups: 1. Control+Vehicle, 2. Stress+Vehicle, 3. Control+Fluoxetine, and 4. Stress+Fluoxetine. At weaning maternal brains were collected. Main findings show that gestational stress alone increased synaptophysin and serotonin metabolism in the cingulate cortex2 region of the cortex while fluoxetine treatment after stress normalized these effects. In the hippocampus, fluoxetine treatment, regardless of gestational stress exposure, decreased both global measures of methylation in the dentate gyrus, as measured by Dnmt3a immunoreactivity, as well as serotonin metabolism. No further changes in synaptophysin, PSD-95, or Dnmt3a immunoreactivity were seen in the cortical or hippocampal areas investigated. These findings show that gestational stress and SSRI medication affect the neurobiology of the maternal brain in a region-specific manner. This work adds to a much needed area of research aimed at understanding neurobiological changes associated with maternal depression and the role of SSRI treatment in altering these changes in the female brain.
Lopes S, Vaz-Silva J, Pinto V, Dalla C, Kokras N, Bedenk B, Mack N, Czisch M, Almeida OFX, Sousa N, et al. Tau protein is essential for stress-induced brain pathology. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016;113(26):E3755-63.Abstract
Exposure to chronic stress is frequently accompanied by cognitive and affective disorders in association with neurostructural adaptations. Chronic stress was previously shown to trigger Alzheimer's-like neuropathology, which is characterized by Tau hyperphosphorylation and missorting into dendritic spines followed by memory deficits. Here, we demonstrate that stress-driven hippocampal deficits in wild-type mice are accompanied by synaptic missorting of Tau and enhanced Fyn/GluN2B-driven synaptic signaling. In contrast, mice lacking Tau [Tau knockout (Tau-KO) mice] do not exhibit stress-induced pathological behaviors and atrophy of hippocampal dendrites or deficits of hippocampal connectivity. These findings implicate Tau as an essential mediator of the adverse effects of stress on brain structure and function.
Morgado P, Marques F, Ribeiro B, Leite-Almeida H, Pêgo JM, Rodrigues AJ, Dalla C, Kokras N, Sousa N, Cerqueira JJ. Stress induced risk-aversion is reverted by D2/D3 agonist in the rat. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2015;25(10):1744-52.Abstract
Stress exposure triggers cognitive and behavioral impairments that influence decision-making processes. Decisions under a context of uncertainty require complex reward-prediction processes that are known to be mediated by the mesocorticolimbic dopamine (DA) system in brain areas sensitive to the deleterious effects of chronic stress, in particular the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). Using a decision-making task, we show that chronic stress biases risk-based decision-making to safer behaviors. This decision-making pattern is associated with an increased activation of the lateral part of the OFC and with morphological changes in pyramidal neurons specifically recruited by this task. Additionally, stress exposure induces a hypodopaminergic status accompanied by increased mRNA levels of the dopamine receptor type 2 (Drd2) in the OFC; importantly, treatment with a D2/D3 agonist quinpirole reverts the shift to safer behaviors induced by stress on risky decision-making. These results suggest that the brain mechanisms related to risk-based decision-making are altered after chronic stress, but can be modulated by manipulation of dopaminergic transmission.
Melo A, Kokras N, Dalla C, Ferreira C, Ventura-Silva AP, Sousa N, Pêgo JM. The positive effect on ketamine as a priming adjuvant in antidepressant treatment. Transl Psychiatry. 2015;5:e573.Abstract
Ketamine is an anesthetic with antidepressant properties. The rapid and lasting effect of ketamine observed in preclinical and clinical research makes it a promising therapeutic to improve current major depression (MD) treatment. Our work intended to evaluate whether the combined use of classic antidepressants (imipramine or fluoxetine) and ketamine would improve the antidepressant response. Using an animal model of depressive-like behavior, we show that the addition of ketamine to antidepressants anticipates the behavioral response and accelerates the neuroplastic events when compared with the use of antidepressants alone. In conclusion, our results suggest the need for a reappraisal of the current pharmacological treatment of MD.
Kokras N, Antoniou K, Mikail HG, Kafetzopoulos V, Papadopoulou-Daifoti Z, Dalla C. Forced swim test: What about females?. Neuropharmacology. 2015;99:408-21.Abstract
In preclinical studies screening for novel antidepressants, male and female animals should be used. However, in a widely used antidepressant test, the forced swim test (FST), sex differences between males and females are not consistent. These discrepancies may discourage the inclusion of females in FST studies. In order to overcome this problem and provide a detailed insight regarding the use of female animals in the FST, we designed the following experiment and we performed a thorough analysis of the relevant literature. Male and female Wistar adult rats were subjected to the FST and sertraline was used as an antidepressant in two doses (10 mg/kg and 40 mg/kg, 3 injections in 24 h). Rodents were subjected in the two FST sessions during all possible combinations of the estrous cycle stages. We found that females exhibited higher levels of immobility than males and this sex difference was alleviated following antidepressant treatment. Sertraline at both doses enhanced swimming in both sexes, but females appeared more responsive to lower sertraline doses regarding immobility levels. Surprisingly, the high sertraline dose enhanced climbing particularly in proestrous and diestrous. Marked sex differences were also observed in the frequency of head swinging, with females exhibiting lower counts than males. Conclusively, when screening for new antidepressants, it is recommended to use standard FST procedures and if possible to include females in all phases of the cycle. Using only one dose of an investigational drug in females in certain phases of the cycle could result to false negative results.
Kokras N, Dalla C. Sex differences in animal models of psychiatric disorders. Br J Pharmacol. 2014;171(20):4595-619.Abstract
Psychiatric disorders are characterized by sex differences in their prevalence, symptomatology and treatment response. Animal models have been widely employed for the investigation of the neurobiology of such disorders and the discovery of new treatments. However, mostly male animals have been used in preclinical pharmacological studies. In this review, we highlight the need for the inclusion of both male and female animals in experimental studies aiming at gender-oriented prevention, diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric disorders. We present behavioural findings on sex differences from animal models of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance-related disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and autism. Moreover, when available, we include studies conducted across different stages of the oestrous cycle. By inspection of the relevant literature, it is obvious that robust sex differences exist in models of all psychiatric disorders. However, many times results are conflicting, and no clear conclusion regarding the direction of sex differences and the effect of the oestrous cycle is drawn. Moreover, there is a lack of considerable amount of studies using psychiatric drugs in both male and female animals, in order to evaluate the differential response between the two sexes. Notably, while in most cases animal models successfully mimic drug response in both sexes, test parameters and treatment-sensitive behavioural indices are not always the same for male and female rodents. Thus, there is an increasing need to validate animal models for both sexes and use standard procedures across different laboratories.
Batzina A, Dalla C, Tsopelakos A, Papadopoulou-Daifoti Z, Karakatsouli N. Environmental enrichment induces changes in brain monoamine levels in gilthead seabream Sparus aurata. Physiol Behav. 2014;130:85-90.Abstract
It is generally accepted that environmental enrichment enhances the performance and improves welfare of animals kept in captivity. Similar results have been obtained for fish. It has been previously reported that the presence of Blue or Red-Brown Substrate (BS and RBS respectively) on tank bottom resulted in growth enhancement and suppression of aggressive behavior of gilthead seabream Sparus aurata compared to Green Substrate (GS) and tanks without modifications (Control-C). In an attempt to identify the underlying mechanisms, in the present study the effects of this environmental enrichment on brain monoamine neurotransmitters and fatty acids of gilthead seabream were evaluated. BS and RBS fish had lower serotonergic activity (5-HIAA/5-HT), resulting mainly from lower 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5-HIAA) levels. BS fish also had lower serotonin levels compared to all other treatments. Brain noradrenaline (NA) levels did not show significant differences between substrate treatments and control. Brain dopamine (DA) levels were lowest in BS and RBS fish, higher in GS fish and highest in C fish. No differences were observed for dopamine metabolites or dopaminergic activity. Moreover, brain NA was negatively correlated with body weight in BS fish and positively correlated in RBS and C fish. A positive correlation was also observed for brain DA with body weight in RBS fish. No differences were observed for brain fatty acids. Present results support the hypothesis that the beneficial effects of the presence of BS and RBS are related to altered social interactions and indicate the establishment of a less stressful social organization in enriched-reared fish groups.
Batzina A, Dalla C, Papadopoulou-Daifoti Z, Karakatsouli N. Effects of environmental enrichment on growth, aggressive behaviour and brain monoamines of gilthead seabream Sparus aurata reared under different social conditions. Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2014;169:25-32.Abstract
The presence of blue or red-brown substrate on the tank bottom has been previously reported as an efficient means of environmental enrichment for gilthead seabream. The present study aimed to investigate whether this enrichment is still beneficial when gilthead seabream is reared under different social conditions (i.e. a lower 4.9 kg m(-3) and a higher 9.7 kg m(-3) density). Water exchange was adjusted according to fish biomass to exclude density effects on water quality. In the enriched tanks single-colour glass gravel was used as substrate (blue and red-brown substrate, or BS and RBS respectively), while control tanks had no gravel. Growth, aggressive behaviour and size distribution results indicated that the lower density created a less favourable social environment. In both densities studied, BS enhanced growth, suppressed aggression and reduced brain serotonergic activity. In the condition of intense social interactions (i.e. the lower density) BS also reduced brain dopaminergic activity. These results along with the negative correlations observed between brain monoamines and fish body mass, indicated that substrate and density effects are socially-induced. However, there may be several biotic and/or abiotic factors interfering with substrate effects that should be investigated before the practical use of a substrate in land-based intensive aquaculture.
Kokras N, Pastromas N, Porto TH, Kafetzopoulos V, Mavridis T, Dalla C. Acute but not sustained aromatase inhibition displays antidepressant properties. Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2014;17(8):1307-13.Abstract
Aromatase inhibitors block the conversion of androgens to oestrogens and are used for the treatment of hormone-responsive breast cancer in menopause and recently also in premenopausal women. We investigate whether decreased oestrogen synthesis following aromatase inhibition leads to a depressive-like behavioural response in cycling female rats. Using the forced swim test (FST) we estimate the response of acute (three injections in 24 h) and sustained (7 d) letrozole and fluoxetine administration. Acute aromatase inhibition decreases immobility duration in the FST, indicating its antidepressant potential. Instead, sustained aromatase inhibition did not show such antidepressant potential. Testosterone elevation associates with the decreased depressive behaviour in the FST following acute letrozole treatment, but interestingly progesterone explains the increased swimming behaviour. Present findings may have potential implications for women treated with aromatase inhibitors, especially before menopause, as well as for the role of gonadal hormones in the expression of depressive symptoms and antidepressant response.
Kyratsas C, Dalla C, Anderzhanova E, Polissidis A, Kokras N, Konstantinides K, Papadopoulou-Daifoti Z. Experimental evidence for sildenafil's action in the central nervous system: dopamine and serotonin changes in the medial preoptic area and nucleus accumbens during sexual arousal. J Sex Med. 2013;10(3):719-29.Abstract
INTRODUCTION: Sildenafil is the first effective oral treatment for male erectile dysfunction. Although it is generally accepted that its action is peripheral, it has been suggested that it influences central neural pathways that are involved in male sexual arousal. Recently, it was shown that local sildenafil administration enhances extracellular dopamine (DA) in the nucleus accumbens (NAcc). AIM: The aim of this study was to determine whether sildenafil administration alters dopaminergic and serotonergic activity in the NAcc and the medial preoptic area (mPOA) during a model of sexual arousal. METHODS: An acute (2 days) or chronic (21 days) sildenafil regimen (1 mg/kg) was administered intraperitoneally to male rats. Thirty minutes after the last sildenafil injection, all males were exposed to noncontact erection sessions by the presentation of inaccessible estrous females. Half of the males had previous experience of noncontact sexual encounter and the other half were exposed for the first time. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Tissue levels of DA and its metabolites, 3,4-Dihydroxyphenylacetic acid (DOPAC) and homovanillic acid (HVA), as well as serotonin (5-HT) and its metabolite 5-HIAA, were measured in the mPOA and NAcc with high-performance liquid chromatography with electrochemical detector. Dopamine ([DOPAC+HVA]/DA) and serotonin (5-HIAA/5-HT) turnovers were also calculated as indices of neurotransmission. RESULTS: In nontrained males, acute and chronic sildenafil treatment increased DA and 5-HT turnover rates in the mPOA and NAcc. In trained rats, acute sildenafil also increased DA and 5-HT turnover rates in both structures, whereas chronic treatment enhanced 5-HT turnover rate only in the mPOA and DA turnover rate only in the NAcc. CONCLUSIONS: Our data confirm that sildenafil enhances dopaminergic activity in the NAcc, extend these findings to the mPOA and furthermore, reveal sildenafil-induced effects on serotonergic activity in these brain regions as well. Therefore, present findings support an effect of sildenafil on central neural pathways that are involved in the control of sexual arousal.
Bessinis DP, Dalla C, Kokras N, Pitychoutis PM, Papadopoulou-Daifoti Z. Sex-dependent neurochemical effects of environmental enrichment in the visual system. Neuroscience. 2013;254:130-40.Abstract
Sex differences in the visual system have been reported in aspects of human vision, such as color perception, peripheral vision and even in the activation of the primary visual cortex. Similarly sex differences have been identified in the visual system of laboratory animals such as monkeys and rats. On the other hand, environmental enrichment (EE) has long been known to affect visual tissues. Taking into consideration the variation in the experimental approaches concerning EE and the sex differences in the visual system, we investigated in male and female rats the serotonergic and dopaminergic effects of EE in the retina and the visual cortex at different time points (i.e. P0-25, P0-P90 and P90-P150). Early EE in adulthood increased the serotonergic activity of the male visual cortex and the female retina (P0-P90). In addition early enrichment (P0-P90) increased dopaminergic activity in the female retina and in the visual cortex of both sexes. Late enrichment increased the serotonergic activity in the retina and visual cortex of both sexes (P90-P150), but increased the dopaminergic activity in the visual cortex only in male animals. In the present study we expose marked sex differences in the neurochemistry of visual tissues and we demonstrate for the first time that EE can in fact modify the serotonergic and dopaminergic neurotransmission in the retina and visual cortex. Overall, the present study underpins the sex-dependent neurochemical status of the visual system and provides insights into the different mechanisms underlying visual processing in the two sexes.
Pitychoutis PM, Kokras N, Sanoudou D, Dalla C, Papadopoulou-Daifoti Z. Pharmacogenetic considerations for late life depression therapy. Expert Opin Drug Metab Toxicol. 2013;9(8):989-99.Abstract
INTRODUCTION: Geriatric depression is a heterogeneous disorder with a complex genetic background. Current first-line treatment of depression is associated with a lower therapeutic outcome in aged depressed patients, when compared to younger subjects. Research which has explored this inadequate response has highlighted several factors which have come into play with the pharmacogenetics of antidepressants in the elderly being a particular area of interest. AREAS COVERED: The authors perform a critical review of the English language articles from PubMed using search terms such as late-life/geriatric depression, antidepressants, pharmacogenetics, pharmacogenomics, pharmacokinetic, genetic, genotype, remission, therapy, treatment and polymorphism. EXPERT OPINION: The emerging clinical and pharmacogenetic data are slowly unveiling the importance of the genome - age interaction in antidepressant response. This data introduces a critical new parameter in personalized medicine. A profound analysis of the age factor in the pharmacogenetics of antidepressant response is imperative, in order to elucidate the clinical significance of these findings and thereby improve patient treatment in the elderly.
Novais A, Ferreira AC, Marques F, Pêgo JM, Cerqueira JJ, David-Pereira A, Campos FL, Dalla C, Kokras N, Sousa N, et al. Neudesin is involved in anxiety behavior: structural and neurochemical correlates. Front Behav Neurosci. 2013;7:119.Abstract
Neudesin (also known as neuron derived neurotrophic factor, Nenf) is a scarcely studied putative non-canonical neurotrophic factor. In order to understand its function in the brain, we performed an extensive behavioral characterization (motor, emotional, and cognitive dimensions) of neudesin-null mice. The absence of neudesin leads to an anxious-like behavior as assessed in the elevated plus maze (EPM), light/dark box (LDB) and novelty suppressed feeding (NSF) tests, but not in the acoustic startle (AS) test. This anxious phenotype is associated with reduced dopaminergic input and impoverished dendritic arborizations in the dentate gyrus granule neurons of the ventral hippocampus. Interestingly, shorter dendrites are also observed in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) of neudesin-null mice. These findings lead us to suggest that neudesin is a novel relevant player in the maintenance of the anxiety circuitry.
Pitychoutis PM, Dalla C, Sideris AC, Tsonis PA, Papadopoulou-Daifoti Z. 5-HT(1A), 5-HT(2A), and 5-HT(2C) receptor mRNA modulation by antidepressant treatment in the chronic mild stress model of depression: sex differences exposed. Neuroscience. 2012;210:152-67.Abstract
It is well established that women experience major depression at roughly twice the rate of men. Interestingly, accumulating clinical and experimental evidence shows that the responsiveness of males and females to antidepressant pharmacotherapy, and particularly to tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), is sex-differentiated. Herein, we investigated whether exposure of male and female rats to the chronic mild stress (CMS) model of depression, as well as treatment with the TCA clomipramine may affect serotonergic receptors' (5-HTRs) mRNA expression in a sex-dependent manner. Male and female rats were subjected to CMS for 4 weeks and during the next 4 weeks they concurrently received clomipramine treatment (10 mg/ml/kg). CMS and clomipramine's effects on 5-HT(1A)R, 5-HT(2A)R, and 5-HT(2C)R mRNA expression were assessed by in situ hybridization histochemistry in selected subfields of the hippocampus and in the lateral orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), two regions implicated in the pathophysiology of major depression. CMS and clomipramine treatment induced sex-differentiated effects on rats' hedonic status and enhanced 5-HT(1A)R mRNA expression in the cornu ammonis 1 (CA1) hippocampal region of male rats. Additionally, CMS attenuated 5-HT(1A)R mRNA expression in the OFC of male rats and clomipramine reversed this effect. Moreover, 5-HT(2A)R mRNA levels in the OFC were enhanced in females but decreased in males, while clomipramine reversed this effect only in females. CMS increased 5-HT2CR mRNA expression in the CA4 region of both sexes and this effect was attenuated by clomipramine. Present data exposed that both CMS and clomipramine treatment may induce sex-differentiated and region-distinctive effects on 5-HTRs mRNA expression and further implicate the serotonergic system in the manifestation of sexually dimorphic neurobehavioral responses to stress.
Kokras N, Dalla C, Sideris AC, Dendi A, Mikail HG, Antoniou K, Papadopoulou-Daifoti Z. Behavioral sexual dimorphism in models of anxiety and depression due to changes in HPA axis activity. Neuropharmacology. 2012;62(1):436-45.Abstract
Anxiety and depression are considered as stress-related disorders, which present considerable sex differentiation. In animal models of anxiety and depression sex differences have been described and linked to the sexually dimorphic hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenals (HPA) axis. The present study aimed to adjust corticosterone, the main HPA axis stress hormone, in male and female adrenalectomized rats with oral (25 μg/ml) corticosterone replacement (ADXR). Subsequently we investigated the behavioral performance of ADXR rats in the open field, light/dark and forced swim test (FST). Male ADXR rats showed less anxiety-like behavior when compared to sham-operated controls, despite adequate corticosterone replacement. They further showed increased swimming and reduced climbing behavior in the FST, while immobility duration did not differ from sham-operated males. On the contrary, adrenalectomy and corticosterone replacement did not have significant effects on the female behavioral response. Females were generally more active and presented less anxiety-like behavior than males, while they exhibited higher depressive-like symptomatology in the FST. ADXR affected behavioral responses predominantly in males, which in turn modified sex differences in the behavioral profile. Females in proestrous and estrous did not differ from females in diestrous and methestrous in any measured behavioral response. Present results suggest that the male and not the female behavioral responses in models of anxiety and depression were mainly affected by ADXR. These findings may play a significant role in explaining the differential coping strategy of the two sexes in response to stressful experiences. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled 'Anxiety and Depression'.
Mikail HG, Dalla C, Kokras N, Kafetzopoulos V, Papadopoulou-Daifoti Z. Sertraline behavioral response associates closer and dose-dependently with cortical rather than hippocampal serotonergic activity in the rat forced swim stress. Physiol Behav. 2012;107(2):201-6.Abstract
The rat Forced Swim Test (FST) is widely used to investigate the response to antidepressant treatment. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) elongate swimming duration during the FST, while climbing duration is unaffected. In the present study, we aimed to correlate behavioral effects of the SSRI sertraline in the FST with respective changes in the serotonergic activity of the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex. Male rats were subjected to the standard FST (two swim sessions in two consecutive days) and between the two sessions they received three i.p. injections of sertraline (10 mg/kg or 40 mg/kg) or vehicle. All rats were killed immediately after the second FST session. Unstressed animals received the same administration schemes and were killed in equivalent time-points. Serotonin and its metabolite 5-HIAA were assayed in the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex with the use of high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC-ED) and their ratio 5-HIAA/5-HT was calculated. Sertraline enhanced swimming and decreased immobility duration at both doses. Serotonergic activity was not altered by the 2-day swim stress in either brain region, while subchronic sertraline treatment enhanced 5-HT levels and decreased 5-HIAA/5-HT in the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex. The serotonin turnover rate (5-HIAA/5-HT ratio) decrease is probably indicative of reduced 5-HT metabolism, as a result of 5-HT reuptake inhibition. This effect was significant in the prefrontal cortex of unstressed rats only after a higher dose of sertraline. In the prefrontal cortex, but not in the hippocampus, immobility duration was negatively correlated with 5-HT tissue levels, whereas swimming duration was positively correlated with 5-HT. These results indicate that after antidepressant treatment, behavior during the FST can be predictive of respective serotonergic changes, especially in the prefrontal cortex.
Bessinis DP, Dalla C, Daifoti ZP, Tiligada E. Histamine involvement in visual development and adaptation. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2012;53(12):7498-503.Abstract
PURPOSE: This study evaluated the level of histamine in the interaction between the environment and the visual system during lifespan development, exploring potential sex differences. METHODS: Male and female Wistar rats, reared in standard laboratory or enriched-environment cages from birth to prepuberty or adulthood, were sacrificed during the critical period for visual development at postnatal day (P) 25 (P25) or in adulthood at P90. Additionally, animals born in standard conditions were exposed to an enriched environment at P90 and sacrificed at P150. The optic chiasm and the visual cortex were dissected out and tissue histamine was quantified fluorophotometrically. Statistical analyses were performed by ANOVA. RESULTS: Histamine levels in the optic chiasm were higher in male than in female rats at all ages. Comparable sex differences in the visual cortex were observed only during prepuberty. Basal histamine content in the optic chiasm was higher in prepuberty and decreased in adulthood in a sex-independent manner. Exposure to an enriched environment decreased optic chiasm histamine levels in both sexes and resulted in no sex difference in the cortical histamine levels at any age. Increased amine levels were detected in the optic chiasm of female rats exposed to an enriched environment during adulthood. CONCLUSIONS: This study presents first evidence associating central histamine levels with the visual system development and environmental adaptation, thus providing the lead for the investigation of the hitherto elusive role of histamine in the regulation of visual processes. Furthermore, the findings challenge the impact of laboratory animal raising environments in developmental and behavioral studies.
Kokras N, Dalla C, Papadopoulou-Daifoti Z. Sex differences in pharmacokinetics of antidepressants. Expert Opin Drug Metab Toxicol. 2011;7(2):213-26.Abstract
INTRODUCTION: Sex differences have been identified in antidepressant treatment; however, it remains unclear to what extent pharmacokinetics contributes to these differences. As current antidepressant pharmacotherapy is less than optimal, understanding the role of sex in pharmacokinetics may substantially contribute to a gender-based optimized treatment. AREAS COVERED: An unrestricted PubMed literature search on antidepressant pharmacokinetics and sex was performed. Sex differences in absorption, distribution, metabolism and elimination of antidepressants, as well as the interaction of sex with age, genetic polymorphisms and gonadal hormones are discussed. We also provide an overview of how each antidepressant presents a particular sex-differentiated pharmacokinetic profile. Most antidepressants present to some extent pharmacokinetic sex differences, which often are further accentuated by gonadal hormones. In most cases, women, particularly elderly women, are expected to have higher exposure to antidepressants when dosed in a similar way as men. EXPERT OPINION: Although the available pharmacokinetic evidence indicates that women should receive lower doses of antidepressants and men should receive higher doses, current guidelines do not recommend dose adjustment, because these sex differences are considered to be clinically insignificant. Unless we understand the link between pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of antidepressants, it will be difficult to determine whether sex differences are of clinical importance or not. Thus, further systematic and particularly focused research is needed on sex differences in pharmacokinetics.
Dalla C, Pitychoutis PM, Kokras N, Papadopoulou-Daifoti Z. Sex differences in response to stress and expression of depressive-like behaviours in the rat. Curr Top Behav Neurosci. 2011;8:97-118.Abstract
Women are more susceptible than men to certain stress-related psychiatric disorders, such as depression. Preclinical studies aim to understand these sex differences by studying male and female rats in stress models. In this chapter, we review sex differences in behavioural aspects, as well as neurochemical and neurobiological findings derived from acute, repeated and chronic stress models. In particular, we focus on sex differences in depressive-like symptomatology expressed in the forced swim test, the chronic mild stress (CMS) and the learned helplessness models, the Flinders Sensitive Line rats (FSL), which is a genetic model of depression and in the lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-induced sickness behaviour, a putative inflammatory model of depression. Also, sex differences in stress effects on learning and memory parameters are discussed, because cognitive alterations are often seen in sex-differentiated psychiatric disorders. The observed behavioural alterations are often linked with abnormalities in the endophenotype, such as in hormonal, neurochemical, immune and neuroplasticity indices. From these data, it is clear that all stress models have strengths and limitations that need to be recognized in order to use them effectively in the investigation of sex differences in affective disorders.
Dalla C, Pitychoutis PM, Kokras N, Papadopoulou-Daifoti Z. Sex differences in animal models of depression and antidepressant response. Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol. 2010;106(3):226-33.Abstract
Many stress-related mental disorders, including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder occur more often in women than in men. While social and cultural factors certainly contribute to these differences, neurobiological sex differences seem to also play an important role. A rapidly burgeoning literature from basic and clinical research documents sex differences in brain anatomy, chemistry and function, as well as in stress and drug responses. For example, some clinical studies have reported that women may have a better outcome when treated with selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, in comparison to tricyclic antidepressants. Furthermore, relatively limited basic research has been devoted to developing animal models and consequently describing drug treatments which are sensitive to sex differences. In this MiniReview, we discuss sex differences in behavioural aspects, as well as neurochemical, neurobiological and pharmacological findings that we have collected from several different animal models and tests of depression. These are the forced swim test, the chronic mild stress and the learned helplessness models, the Flinders sensitive line rats, which is a genetic model of depression and the lipopolysaccharide-induced sickness behaviour, a putative inflammatory model of depression. Collectively, our data have shown that in all animal models assayed, serotonergic neurochemical responses were differently affected in males and females, ultimately producing sex-dependent behavioural effects. In addition, Flinders sensitive line rats exhibited a sexually dimorphic response to chronic antidepressant treatment. These sex-differentiated neurochemical and behavioural alterations lend support to a major role of serotonin in the mediation of sexually dimorphic responses.
Pitychoutis PM, Zisaki A, Dalla C, Papadopoulou-Daifoti Z. Pharmacogenetic insights into depression and antidepressant response: does sex matter?. Curr Pharm Des. 2010;16(20):2214-23.Abstract
It is known that the frequency of men and women suffering from stress-related neuropsychiatric disorders is all but proportionally distributed. Notably, women are far more susceptible than men to the precipitation of depressive symptomatology. Some studies attribute this sex-specific vulnerability to the pronounced genetic predisposition that women may present towards the development of depressive disorders. Furthermore, clinical evidence support the notion that antidepressant response is also characterized by sex-specific manifestations; women may have a better outcome when treated with selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, in comparison to tricyclic antidepressants. Despite the fact that the contribution of the "genome" remains elusive when it comes to major depression, intriguing evidence has recently emerged pointing to sexually dimorphic influences of certain polymorphisms in genes related to the pathophysiology of major depression and antidepressant response, such as the serotonin transporter (5-HTT), serotonin 1A (5HT1A) receptor, monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A) and others. Given that the ultimate goal of pharmacogenetics is to provide "tailor-made" pharmacotherapies based on the genetic makeup of an individual, the factor of "sex" needs to be carefully addressed in disorders that are characterized by sex specific manifestations. The aim of the present article is to highlight the impact of sex in depression and in antidepressant pharmacoresponse by providing intriguing insights from the field of pharmacogenetics.
Kokras N, Antoniou K, Dalla C, Bekris S, Xagoraris M, Ovestreet DH, Papadopoulou-Daifoti Z. Sex-related differential response to clomipramine treatment in a rat model of depression. J Psychopharmacol. 2009;23(8):945-56.Abstract
Research in affective disorders is often performed without considering sex differences, although women are predominantly affected. Consequently, the potential sex-dependent action of antidepressants remains elusive. We investigated whether Flinders sensitive line (FSL) of rats, a model of depression, would present sex-differentiated responses to antidepressant treatment. FSL and Sprague-Dawley rats were treated with clomipramine 10 mg/kg/day for 14 days. Subsequently, they were subjected to either a single session of the forced swim test or an estimation of serotonergic function in the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, amygdala and hypothalamus. Male FSL displayed increased immobility duration, decreased active behaviours, increased serotonin tissue levels and a reduced serotonin turnover rate in most brain areas studied. Female FSL showed a distinct profile, consisting of decreased immobility latency, increased climbing duration, limited serotonergic deviations and no difference in the serotonin turnover rate in comparison with controls. Interestingly, despite baseline differences, clomipramine treatment reversed all relevant behavioural responses and increased the serotonin turnover rate in both sexes. However, the latter effect was remarkably more pronounced in females. It is concluded that, in this animal model of depression, chronic clomipramine treatment attenuated baseline sex differences in the phenotype while maintaining or intensifying the sex differentiation in the serotonergic endophenotype.
Dalla C, Shors TJ. Sex differences in learning processes of classical and operant conditioning. Physiol Behav. 2009;97(2):229-38.Abstract
Males and females learn and remember differently at different times in their lives. These differences occur in most species, from invertebrates to humans. We review here sex differences as they occur in laboratory rodent species. We focus on classical and operant conditioning paradigms, including classical eyeblink conditioning, fear-conditioning, active avoidance and conditioned taste aversion. Sex differences have been reported during acquisition, retention and extinction in most of these paradigms. In general, females perform better than males in the classical eyeblink conditioning, in fear-potentiated startle and in most operant conditioning tasks, such as the active avoidance test. However, in the classical fear-conditioning paradigm, in certain lever-pressing paradigms and in the conditioned taste aversion, males outperform females or are more resistant to extinction. Most sex differences in conditioning are dependent on organizational effects of gonadal hormones during early development of the brain, in addition to modulation by activational effects during puberty and adulthood. Critically, sex differences in performance account for some of the reported effects on learning and these are discussed throughout the review. Because so many mental disorders are more prevalent in one sex than the other, it is important to consider sex differences in learning when applying animal models of learning for these disorders. Finally, we discuss how sex differences in learning continue to alter the brain throughout the lifespan. Thus, sex differences in learning are not only mediated by sex differences in the brain, but also contribute to them.
Dalla C, Whetstone AS, Hodes GE, Shors TJ. Stressful experience has opposite effects on dendritic spines in the hippocampus of cycling versus masculinized females. Neurosci Lett. 2009;449(1):52-6.Abstract
Stress increases associative learning and the density of dendritic spines in the hippocampus of male rats. In contrast, exposure to the same stressor impairs associative learning and reduces spine density in females. These effects in females are most evident when they are in the proestrus phase of the estrous cycle. An injection of testosterone at the time of birth masculinizes the female brain. In adulthood, masculinized females respond like males do to stress, i.e. they learn better. Here, we hypothesized that stress would increase spine densities on pyramidal neurons in area CA1 of the hippocampus of masculinized females, because stress enhances learning ability in both males and masculinized females. To test this, we used Golgi impregnation to stain tissue from masculinized and cycling females that were exposed to an acute stressor and sacrificed 1 day later. There was a significant interaction between stressor exposure and testosterone treatment at birth (p<0.001). In general, cycling females that were stressed tended to possess fewer spines on apical and basal dendrites in the CA1 area of the hippocampus, whereas the masculinized females possessed significantly more spines after the stressor. These findings underscore the plastic nature of dendritic spines. They suggest that their response to stress in adulthood is organized by the presence of testosterone during very early development. Such a process may represent a mechanism for altering learning abilities after an acute traumatic experience.
Dalla C, Papachristos EB, Whetstone AS, Shors TJ. Female rats learn trace memories better than male rats and consequently retain a greater proportion of new neurons in their hippocampi. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009;106(8):2927-32.Abstract
Learning increases the survival of new cells that are generated in the hippocampal formation before the training experience, especially if the animal learns to associate stimuli across time [Gould E, Beylin A, Tanapat P, Reeves A, Shors TJ (1999) Nat Neurosci 2:260-265]. All relevant studies have been conducted on male rats, despite evidence for sex differences in this type of learning. In the present study, we asked whether sex differences in learning influence the survival of neurons generated in the adult hippocampus. Male and female adult rats were injected with one dose of bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU; 200 mg/kg), to label one population of dividing cells. One week later, half of the animals were trained with a temporal learning task of trace eyeblink conditioning, while the other half were not trained. Animals were killed 1 day after training (12 days after the BrdU injection). Hippocampal tissue was stained for BrdU and a marker of immature neurons, doublecortin. Both sexes learned to emit the conditioned eyeblink response during the trace interval. As a consequence, more new neurons remained in their hippocampi than in sex-matched controls. In individual animals, the number of surviving cells correlated positively with asymptotic performance; those that expressed more learned responses retained more new neurons. However, animals that learned very well retained even more new cells if they required many trials to do so. Because females emitted more learned responses than males did, they retained nearly twice as many new cells per unit volume of tissue. This effect was most evident in the ventral region of the hippocampal formation. Thus, sex differences in learning alter the anatomical structure of the hippocampus. As a result, male and female brains continue to differentiate in adulthood.
Kamper EF, Chatzigeorgiou A, Tsimpoukidi O, Kamper M, Dalla C, Pitychoutis PM, Papadopoulou-Daifoti Z. Sex differences in oxidant/antioxidant balance under a chronic mild stress regime. Physiol Behav. 2009;98(1-2):215-22.Abstract
The deterioration of homeostasis between oxidant/antioxidant species may represent an important mechanism linking psychological stress to cardiovascular risk despite the many sex differences in stress responsiveness. The goal of the present study was to investigate the influence of chronic mild stress (CMS), a widely accepted animal model of depression, on oxidative homeostasis-allostasis markers and sICAM-1, a marker of endothelial injury, in the serum of Wistar rats, by taking into account the effect of sex. After six weeks of exposure to mild unpredictable environmental stressors, both male and female rat groups displayed typical changes in hedonic status (anhedonia), which is a core symptom of human depression. Control female rats had higher (nitrite and nitrate) NOx, lower malondealdehyde (MDA) levels with lower activity of antioxidant enzymes and sICAM-1 levels than did control males. CMS induced oxidant/antioxidant responses in both sexes. Females tended to increase their nitric oxide (NO) levels further, while MDA levels did not reach those of males, thus retaining significantly higher NO bioavailability than in males. Concerning the antioxidant enzymes, CMS-females exhibited significantly higher glutathione peroxidase (GPx) activity and lower glutathione reductase (GR) and superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity compared to CMS-males. The CMS response in females was accompanied by lower sICAM-1 levels than in males, suggesting lower endothelial injury. In conclusion, the results of the present study showed that CMS induces different oxidative stress and compensatory responses in both sexes probably due to differences in the mechanisms regulating oxidant/antioxidant pathways.
Dalla C, Edgecomb C, Whetstone AS, Shors TJ. Females do not express learned helplessness like males do. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2008;33(7):1559-69.Abstract
Women are more likely than men to suffer from stress-related mental disorders, such as depression. In the present experiments, we identified sex differences in one of the most common animal models of depression, that of learned helplessness. Male and female rats were trained to escape a mild footshock each day for 7 days (controllable stress). Each rat was yoked to another rat that could not escape (uncontrollable stress), but was exposed to the same amount of shock. One day later, all stressed rats and unstressed controls were tested on a more difficult escape task in a different context. Most males exposed to uncontrollable stress did not learn to escape and were therefore helpless. In contrast, most females did learn to escape on the more difficult escape task, irrespective of whether they had been exposed to controllable or uncontrollable stress. The sex differences in helplessness behavior were not dependent on the presence of sex hormones in adulthood, because neither ovariectomy of females nor castration of males abolished them. The absence of helplessness in females was neither dependent on organizational effects of testosterone during the day of birth, because masculinized females did not express helplessness as adults. Thus, sex differences in helplessness behavior are independent of gonadal hormones in adulthood and testosterone exposure during perinatal development. Learned helplessness may not constitute a valid model for depressive behavior in women, at least as reflected by the response of female rats to operant conditioning procedures after stressful experience.
Dalla C, Antoniou K, Kokras N, Drossopoulou G, Papathanasiou G, Bekris S, Daskas S, Papadopoulou-Daifoti Z. Sex differences in the effects of two stress paradigms on dopaminergic neurotransmission. Physiol Behav. 2008;93(3):595-605.Abstract
Sex differences in behavioral and neurobiological responses to stress are considered to modulate the prevalence of some psychiatric disorders, including major depression. In the present study, we compared dopaminergic neurotransmission and behavior in response to two different stress paradigms, the Forced Swim Test (FST) and the Chronic Mild Stress (CMS). Male and female rats were subjected to one session of swim stress for two consecutive days (FST) or to a variety of mild stressors alternating for six weeks (CMS). Subsequently, the tissue levels of dopamine (DA) and its metabolites (HVA and DOPAC) in the hippocampus, the hypothalamus, the prefrontal cortex and the striatum were measured using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). The ratios HVA/DA and DOPAC/DA were also calculated as indices of the dopaminergic activity. Results from the FST determined that males exhibited lower immobility, higher climbing duration and increased dopaminergic activity in the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus compared to females. CMS induced alterations in sucrose intake in both sexes, while it only decreased dopaminergic activity in the prefrontal cortex of females. These findings show that FST and CMS have different effects on the dopaminergic activity of discrete brain regions depending on the sex of the animal. These data support the growing evidence that females display a differential response and adaptation to stress than males.
Shors TJ, Mathew J, Sisti HM, Edgecomb C, Beckoff S, Dalla C. Neurogenesis and helplessness are mediated by controllability in males but not in females. Biol Psychiatry. 2007;62(5):487-95.Abstract
BACKGROUND: Numerous studies have implicated neurogenesis in the hippocampus in animal models of depression, especially those related to controllability and learned helplessness. Here, we tested the hypothesis that uncontrollable but not controllable stress would reduce cell proliferation in the hippocampus of male and female rats and would relate to the expression of helplessness behavior. METHODS: To manipulate controllability, groups of male and female rats were trained in one session (acute stress) or over seven sessions (repeated stress) to escape a footshock, whereas yoked control subjects could not escape but were exposed to the same amount of stress. Cell proliferation was assessed with immunohistochemistry of bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) and immunofluorescence of BrdU and neuronal nuclei (NeuN). Separate groups were exposed to either controllable or uncontrollable stress, and their ability to learn to escape during training on a more difficult task was used as a behavioral measure of helplessness. RESULTS: Acute stress reduced cell proliferation in males but did not affect proliferation in the female hippocampus. When animals were given the opportunity to learn to control the stress over seven days, males produced more cells than the yoked males without control. Repeated training with controllable stress did not influence proliferation in females. Under all conditions, males were more likely than females to express helplessness behavior, even males that were not previously stressed. CONCLUSIONS: The modulation of neurogenesis by controllability was evident in males but not in females, as was the expression of helplessness behavior, despite the fact that men are less likely than women to experience depression.
Dalla C, Bangasser DA, Edgecomb C, Shors TJ. Neurogenesis and learning: acquisition and asymptotic performance predict how many new cells survive in the hippocampus. Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2007;88(1):143-8.Abstract
Previous research has shown that some associative learning tasks prevent the death of new neurons in the adult hippocampus. However, it is unclear whether it is mere exposure to the training stimuli that rescues neurons or whether successful learning of the task is required for enhanced neuronal survival. If learning is the important variable, then animals that learn better given the same amount of training should retain more of the new cells after learning than animals that do not learn as well. Here, we examined the effects of training versus learning on cell survival in the adult hippocampus. Animals were injected with BrdU to label a population of cells and trained one week later on one of two trace conditioning tasks, one of which depends on the hippocampus and one that does not. Increases in cell number occurred only in animals that acquired the learned response, irrespective of the task. There were significant correlations between acquisition and cell number, as well as between asymptotic performance and cell number. These data support the idea that learning and not simply training increases the survival of the new cells in the hippocampus.
Cornil CA, Dalla C, Papadopoulou-Daifoti Z, Baillien M, Balthazart J. Estradiol rapidly activates male sexual behavior and affects brain monoamine levels in the quail brain. Behav Brain Res. 2006;166(1):110-23.Abstract
Steroids are generally viewed as transcription factors binding to intracellular receptors and activating gene transcription. Rapid cellular effects mediated via non-genomic mechanisms have however been identified and one report showed that injections of estradiol rapidly stimulate chemoinvestigation and mounting behavior in castrated male rats. It is not known whether such effects take place in other species and what are the cellular underlying mechanisms. We show here that a single injection of estradiol (500 microg/kg) rapidly and transiently activates copulatory behavior in castrated male quail pre-treated with a dose of testosterone behaviorally ineffective by itself. The maximal behavioral effect was observed after 15 min. In a second experiment, the brain of all subjects was immediately collected after behavioral tests performed 15 min after injection. The preoptic area--hypothalamus (HPOA), hindbrain, telencephalon and cerebellum were isolated and monoamines measured by HPLC-ED. Estradiol increased levels of the serotonin metabolite 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5-HIAA) and 5-HIAA/serotonin ratios in the telencephalon and hindbrain independently of whether animals had mated or not. Estradiol also affected these measures in HPOA and cerebellum but this effect was correlated with the level of sexual activity so that significant effects of the treatment only appeared when sexual activity was used as a covariate. Interactions between estradiol effects and sexual activity were also observed for dopamine in the HPOA and for serotonin in the hindbrain and cerebellum. Together, these data demonstrate that a single estradiol injection rapidly activates male sexual behavior in quail and that this behavioral effect is correlated with changes in monoaminergic activity.
Dalla C, Antoniou K, Papadopoulou-Daifoti Z, Balthazart J, Bakker J. Male aromatase-knockout mice exhibit normal levels of activity, anxiety and "depressive-like" symptomatology. Behav Brain Res. 2005;163(2):186-93.Abstract
It is well known that estradiol derived from neural aromatization of testosterone plays a crucial role in the development of the male brain and the display of sexual behaviors in adulthood. It was recently found that male aromatase knockout mice (ArKO) deficient in estradiol due to a mutation in the aromatase gene have general deficits in coital behavior and are sexually less motivated. We wondered whether these behavioral deficits of ArKO males could be related to changes in activity, exploration, anxiety and "depressive-like" symptomatology. ArKO and wild type (WT) males were subjected to open field (OF), elevated plus maze (EPM), and forced swim tests (FST), after being exposed or not to chronic mild stress (CMS). CMS was used to evaluate the impact of chronic stressful procedures and to unveil possible differences between genotypes. There was no effect of genotype on OF, EPM and FST behavioral parameters. WT and ArKO mice exposed to CMS or not exhibited the same behavioral profile during these three types of tests. However, all CMS-exposed mice (ArKO and WT) spent less time in the center of the EPM. Additionally, floating duration measured in the FST increased between two tests in both WT and ArKO mice, though that increase was less prominent in mice previously subjected to CMS than in controls. Therefore, both ArKO and WT males displayed the same behavior and had the same response to CMS however CMS exposure slightly modified the behavior displayed by mice of both genotypes in the FST and EPM paradigms. These results show that ArKO males display normal levels of activity, exploration, anxiety and "depressive-like" symptomatology and thus their deficits in sexual behavior are specific in nature and do not result indirectly from other behavioral changes.
Cornil CA, Dalla C, Papadopoulou-Daifoti Z, Baillien M, Dejace C, Ball GF, Balthazart J. Rapid decreases in preoptic aromatase activity and brain monoamine concentrations after engaging in male sexual behavior. Endocrinology. 2005;146(9):3809-20.Abstract
In Japanese quail, as in rats, the expression of male sexual behavior over relatively long time periods (days to weeks) is dependent on the local production of estradiol in the preoptic area via the aromatization of testosterone. On a short-term basis (minutes to hours), central actions of dopamine as well as locally produced estrogens modulate behavioral expression. In rats, a view of and sexual interaction with a female increase dopamine release in the preoptic area. In quail, in vitro brain aromatase activity (AA) is rapidly modulated by calcium-dependent phosphorylations that are likely to occur in vivo as a result of changes in neurotransmitter activity. Furthermore, an acute estradiol injection rapidly stimulates copulation in quail, whereas a single injection of the aromatase inhibitor vorozole rapidly inhibits this behavior. We hypothesized that brain aromatase and dopaminergic activities are regulated in quail in association with the expression of male sexual behavior. Visual access as well as sexual interactions with a female produced a significant decrease in brain AA, which was maximal after 5 min. This expression of sexual behavior also resulted in a significant decrease in dopaminergic as well as serotonergic activity after 1 min, which returned to basal levels after 5 min. These results demonstrate for the first time that AA is rapidly modulated in vivo in parallel with changes in dopamine activity. Sexual interactions with the female decreased aromatase and dopamine activities. These data challenge established views about the causal relationships among dopamine, estrogen action, and male sexual behavior.
Dalla C, Antoniou K, Drossopoulou G, Xagoraris M, Kokras N, Sfikakis A, Papadopoulou-Daifoti Z. Chronic mild stress impact: are females more vulnerable?. Neuroscience. 2005;135(3):703-14.Abstract
Despite the knowledge that women are more susceptible than men to stress-related mental illness, such as major depression, there is no comprehensive estimation of the role of gender in the detrimental effects of chronic stress that might cause depression. Sex differences regarding the association of behavioral parameters with serotonergic and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activities were investigated in the chronic mild stress model of depression. Additionally, the impact of chronic mild stress exposure on an additional/novel short-term stressful procedure, such as the forced swim test was examined in male and female rats. Female rats were found to be more vulnerable to chronic mild stress and that was depicted with disruption of sucrose intake, decreases in open field activity, increased corticosterone levels, alteration in estrous cycle and decreased serotonergic activity in hippocampus and hypothalamus. On the contrary, in males the current chronic mild stress protocol elicited only behavioral changes, such as disruption in sucrose intake and decreased open field activity. Interestingly, in response to forced swim test, females previously subjected to chronic mild stress, were found to cope better by exhibiting increased active behavior in the second forced swim test session and higher hypothalamic serotonergic activity in comparison with corresponding males. On the other hand, males were more affected by previous chronic mild stress exposure and that was manifested by decreased active behavior in the first forced swim test session and increased corticosterone levels following second forced swim test session. These data indicate that although females are more vulnerable in the application of chronic mild stress than males, in response to an additional-novel stressor (forced swim test) they show better response. Therefore, both sex/gender and combination of stressful procedures should be carefully considered in the study of the pathophysiology of stress-related mental illnesses.
Drossopoulou G, Antoniou K, Kitraki E, Papathanasiou G, Papalexi E, Dalla C, Papadopoulou-Daifoti Z. Sex differences in behavioral, neurochemical and neuroendocrine effects induced by the forced swim test in rats. Neuroscience. 2004;126(4):849-57.Abstract
The forced swim test (FST) has been considered as a pharmacologically valid test of the depressive syndrome in rodents. However, few studies have focused on neurochemical and behavioral responses during FST in both male and female rats. Thus, we investigated certain behavioral and neuroendocrine responses as well as the serotonergic activity after the application of FST in both sexes. Our data show that the duration of immobility was increased in both male and female rats during the 2nd session of the FST. Sex differences are observed in some behavioral responses, such as head swinging that is mostly present in male rats. In female rats FST induced a decrease in serotonergic activity in hippocampus and hypothalamus while in male rats it induced an increase in serotonergic activity in hypothalamus. Corticosterone serum levels were elevated in both sexes. However, hippocampal GR mRNA levels tended to be increased in males and females respectively. Moreover, hypothalamic serotonin (5-HT)1A mRNA levels were decreased in female rats while in male rats hippocampal 5-HT1A mRNA levels were increased. These data have shown that FST induces "depressive like symptoms" in both sexes and provide evidence that sex differences characterize certain behavioral aspects in the FST. Notably, hippocampal and hypothalamic serotonergic activity has been differentially modified in male rats compared with female rats and these neurochemical findings could be relevant to the differentiated expression of 5-HT1A receptor. Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity was also affected by FST application in a sex specific manner. The present results support that FST induced behavioral, neurochemical and neurobiological alterations, which are sex dependent.
Dalla C, Antoniou K, Papadopoulou-Daifoti Z, Balthazart J, Bakker J. Oestrogen-deficient female aromatase knockout (ArKO) mice exhibit depressive-like symptomatology. Eur J Neurosci. 2004;20(1):217-28.Abstract
We recently found that female aromatase knockout (ArKO) mice that are deficient in oestradiol due to a targeted mutation in the aromatase gene show deficits in sexual behaviour that cannot be corrected by adult treatment with oestrogens. We determined here whether these impairments are associated with changes in general levels of activity, anxiety or 'depressive-like' symptomatology due to chronic oestrogen deficiency. We also compared the neurochemical profile of ArKO and wild-type (WT) females, as oestrogens have been shown to modulate dopaminergic, serotonergic and noradrenergic brain activities. ArKO females did not differ from WT in spontaneous motor activity, exploration or anxiety. These findings are in line with the absence of major neurochemical alterations in hypothalamus, prefrontal cortex or striatum, which are involved in the expression of these behaviours. By contrast, ArKO females displayed decreased active behaviours, such as struggling and swimming, and increased passive behaviours, such as floating, in repeated sessions of the forced swim test, indicating that these females exhibit 'depressive-like' symptoms. Adult treatment with oestradiol did not reverse the behavioural deficits observed in the forced swim test, suggesting that they may be due to the absence of oestradiol during development. Accordingly, an increased serotonergic activity was observed in the hippocampus of ArKO females compared with WT, which was also not reversed by adult oestradiol treatment. The possible organizational role of oestradiol on the hippocampal serotonergic system and the 'depressive-like' profile of ArKO females provide new insights into the pathophysiology of depression and the increased vulnerability of women to depression.
Papagiannopoulou D, Pirmettis I, Tsoukalas C, Nikoladou L, Drossopoulou G, Dalla C, Pelecanou M, Papadopoulou-Daifotis Z, Papadopoulos M, Chiotellis E. Oxotechnetium 99mTcO[SN(R)S][S] complexes as potential 5-HT1A receptor imaging agents. Nucl Med Biol. 2002;29(8):825-32.Abstract
A series of 99mTcO[SN(R)S][S] complexes carrying the 1-(2-methoxyphenyl)piperazine moiety on the tridentate ligand [SN(R)S] was synthesized. For structural characterization and for in vitro binding assays the analogous oxorhenium complexes were prepared. As demonstrated by appropriate competition binding tests in rat hippocampal preparations, all oxorhenium analogues showed affinity for the 5-HT(1A) receptor binding sites with IC(50) values at the nanomolar range (IC(50)= 5.8-103 nM). All 99mTcO[SN(R)S]/[S] complexes showed significant brain uptake in rats at 2 min p.i. (0.24-1.31% ID). However, a clear correlation between distribution of radioactivity in the brain and distribution of 5-HT(1A) receptors could not be established.