Differential response of hippocampal subregions to stress and learning
Hawley, Darby F.
Christie, Brian R.
Leasure, J. Leigh
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The hippocampus has two functionally distinct subregions–the dorsal portion, primarily associated with spatial navigation, and the ventral portion, primarily associated with anxiety. In a prior study of chronic unpredictable stress (CUS) in rodents, we found that it selectively enhanced cellular plasticity in the dorsal hippocampal subregion while negatively impacting it in the ventral. In the present study, we determined whether this adaptive plasticity in the dorsal subregion would confer CUS rats an advantage in a spatial task–the radial arm water maze (RAWM). RAWM exposure is both stressful and requires spatial navigation, and therefore places demands simultaneously upon both hippocampal subregions. Therefore, we used Western blotting to investigate differential expression of plasticity-associated proteins (brain derived neurotrophic factor [BDNF], proBDNF and postsynaptic density-95 [PSD-95]) in the dorsal and ventral subregions following RAWM exposure. Lastly, we used unbiased stereology to compare the effects of CUS on proliferation, survival and neuronal differentiation of cells in the dorsal and ventral hippocampal subregions. We found that CUS and exposure to the RAWM both increased corticosterone, indicating that both are stressful; nevertheless, CUS animals had significantly better long-term spatial memory. We also observed a subregion-specific pattern of protein expression following RAWM, with proBDNF increased in the dorsal and decreased in the ventral subregion, while PSD-95 was selectively upregulated in the ventral. Finally, consistent with our previous study, we found that CUS most negatively affected neurogenesis in the ventral (compared to the dorsal) subregion. Taken together, our data support a dual role for the hippocampus in stressful experiences, with the more resilient dorsal portion undergoing adaptive plasticity (perhaps to facilitate escape from or neutralization of the stressor), and the ventral portion involved in affective responses.