Intestinal epithelium aryl hydrocarbon receptor is involved in stress sensitivity and maintaining depressive symptoms

Caitlin A. Madison, Lauren Hillbrick, Jacob Kuempel, Georgia Lee Albrecht, Kerstin K. Landrock, Stephen Safe, Robert S. Chapkin, Shoshana Eitan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) is a key regulator in the microbiome-gut-brain axis, and AhR-active microbial metabolites modulate multiple neuronal responses. We recently demonstrated that 3,3’-diindolylmethane (DIM) and 1,4-dihydroxy-2-naphthoic acid (DHNA), two selective AhR modulators (SAhRMs), act as antidepressants in female mice. Thus, to examine the role of intestinal AhR in depression, anxiety, and spatial learning, this study employed transgenic mice in which the AhR was knockout only in the intestinal epithelium (AhRΔIEC). Additionally, this study examined whether the antidepressant effects of dietary DIM and DHNA is mediated by intestinal AhR. AhRΔIEC and WT female mice were fed daily with vehicle, 20 mg/kg DIM or DHNA for three weeks prior to four weeks of unpredictable chronic mild stress (UCMS). Mice were examined for weight gain, anhedonia-like behavior (sucrose preference test), anxiety levels (open field, light/dark, elevated plus maze, novelty-induced hypophagia, and marble burying tests), and spatial learning (Morris water maze). UCMS reduced weight gain in AhRΔIECs, but not WTs. Moreover, UCMS initially reduced sucrose preference in both AhRΔIECs and WTs, but over 4 weeks of UCMS, AhRΔIECs develop resilience to UCMS-induced anhedonia. Additionally, AhRΔIECs exhibit slightly reduced anxiety in certain tests and faster spatial learning. DIM and DHNA acted as antidepressants in both AhRΔIECs and WTs. Thus, this study suggests that intestinal AhR plays differential roles, mitigating stress effects on weight gain, and increasing stress effects on mood. However, the site of antidepressant action of SAhRMs, such as DIM and DHNA, is not dependent on the expression of intestinal AhR.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number114256
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
StatePublished - Feb 25 2023


  • 1
  • 3
  • 3'-Diindolylmethane (DIM)
  • 4-dihydroxy-2-naphthoic acid (DHNA)
  • Anxiety
  • Aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR)
  • Depression
  • Microbiome-gut-brain axis
  • Spatial learning
  • Sucrose
  • Anhedonia
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Antidepressive Agents/pharmacology
  • Depression/drug therapy
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Mice
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon
  • Weight Gain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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