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Androgen-Dependent Excitability of Mouse Ventral Hippocampal Afferents to Nucleus Accumbens Underlies Sex-Specific Susceptibility to Stress

      Abstract

      Background

      Depression affects women nearly twice as often as men, but the neurobiological underpinnings of this discrepancy are unclear. Preclinical studies in male mice suggest that activity of ventral hippocampus (vHPC) neurons projecting to the nucleus accumbens (NAc) regulates mood-related behavioral responses to stress. We sought to characterize this circuit in both sexes and to investigate its role in potential sex differences in models of depression.

      Methods

      We used male and female adult C57BL/6J mice in the subchronic variable stress model to precipitate female-specific reduction in sucrose preference and performed gonadectomies to test the contributions of gonadal hormones to this stress response. In addition, ex vivo slice electrophysiology of transgenic Cre-inducible Rosa-eGFP-L10a mice in combination with retrograde viral tracing to identify circuits was used to test contributions of gonadal hormones to sex differences in vHPC afferents. Finally, we used an intersecting viral DREADD (designer receptor exclusively activated by designer drugs) strategy to manipulate vHPC-NAc excitability directly in awake behaving mice.

      Results

      We show a testosterone-dependent lower excitability in male versus female vHPC-NAc neurons and corresponding testosterone-dependent male resilience to reduced sucrose preference after subchronic variable stress. Importantly, we show that long-term DREADD stimulation of vHPC-NAc neurons causes decreased sucrose preference in male mice after subchronic variable stress, whereas DREADD inhibition of this circuit prevents this effect in female mice.

      Conclusions

      We demonstrate a circuit-specific sex difference in vHPC-NAc neurons that is dependent on testosterone and causes susceptibility to stress in female mice. These data provide a substantive mechanism linking gonadal hormones to cellular excitability and anhedonia—a key feature in depressive states.

      Keywords

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