Chronic immobilization stress: evidence for decreases of 5-hydroxy-tryptamine immunoreactivity and for increases of glucocorticoid receptor immunoreactivity in various brain regions of the male rat

I. Kitayama, A. Cintra, A. M. Janson, K. Fuxe, L. F. Agnati, P. Eneroth, M. Aronsson, A. Härfstrand, H. W M Steinbush, T. J. Visser, M. Goldstein, W. Vale, J. Å Gustafsson

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40 Scopus citations


Male rats were exposed to severe 14 day immobilization stress. Body weight, body temperature, food and water intake, behavioral parameters, and serum corticosterone levels were measured during and after the stress period. On the 7th day after cessation of stress the experimental animals together with the control rats were taken to immunocytochemical analysis involving morphometry and microdensitometry of tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT), various neuropeptide, and glucocorticoid receptor (GR) immunoreactivities (IRs) in a large number of regions of the central nervous system. In addition, adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) IR was analyzed in the pituitary gland. Seven days following cessation of the chronic stress food intake, total locomotion and forward locomotion had been restored to normal. Serum corticosterone levels appeared to remain increased even 6 days following cessation of the chronic immobilization stress, probably caused by increased release of ACTH. Paraventricular corticotropin releasing hormone (CRF) IR was negatively correlated with the pituitary ACTH IR, indicating that the increase in ACTH release was produced by an increased release of CRF from the hypothalamus. The major immunocytochemical change observed 7 days after cessation of stress was a disappearance of 5-HT IR in the 5-HT cell groups B 1, B 2, B 3, and B 7. 5-HT IR in nerve terminals was only affected in the dorsal horn, where 5-HT IR was increased in the substantia gelatinosa. GR IR was found to be significantly increaed in monoaminergic cell groups: serotoninergic B 7, dopaminergic A 12, and noradrenergic A 1, A 2, and A 6. A trend for a reduction of TH IR was observed in nigral DA cells associated with significant reductions in TH IR in striatal DA nerve terminals. Finally, increases in 5-HT and substance P (SP) IR were found in the nerve terminals of the substantia gelatinosa of the cervical spinal cord in the stress group. In the present experimental model evidence has been obtained for a maintained activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis as evaluated 7 days after cessation of severe chronic immobilization stress. The reduction of 5-HT IR in various 5-HT cell groups indicates a reduction of 5-HT synthesis, which may also be associated with reduced 5-HT release from the nerve terminals, since no depletion was observed in terminal regions and in one case an increase in 5-HT IR was noted (substantia gelatinosa). The increase in GR IR, demonstrated in the NA and 5-HT cell groups in the presence of a maintained hypersecretion of corticosterone may represent signs of an upregulation of GR synthesis and/or increased translocation, which take place in the presence of maintained hypersecretion of corticosterone. Thus, 5-HT and NA neurons may respond more effectively to circulating glucocorticoids after severe chronic stress. In this way glucocorticoids may protect against stress-induced exhaustion of neurons leading to impairment of transmission. Studies on TH IR suggest a deficit in the DA transmission line of the nigrostriatal DA neurons, but of no other CA neurons studied. Such effects may contribute to behavioral suppression. Finally, the stress-induced increases in 5-HT and SP IR in the substantia gelatinosa may in part underlie the phenomenon of stress-induced analgesia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)93-130
Number of pages38
JournalJournal of Neural Transmission
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Jun 1 1989


  • 5-hydroxytryptamine
  • brain
  • Chronic stress
  • glucocorticoid receptor
  • image analysis
  • tyrosine hydroxylase

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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