To determine whether exposure to fox odor alters granule neuron production, we examined proliferating cells and their progeny in the dentate gyrus of adult male rats exposed to trimethyl thiazoline, a component of fox feces. Additionally, to determine whether this effect is adrenal hormone-mediated, we examined animals exposed to fox odor after bilateral adrenalectomy and replacement with low levels of the endogenous glucocorticoid corticosterone. Stereologic analyses of the number of 5-bromo-2'deoxyuridine (BrdU) -labeled cells revealed that exposure to fox odor but not other, nonthreatening, odors (mint or orange) rapidly decreased the number of proliferating cells in the dentate gyrus. This effect is dependent on a stress-induced rise in adrenal hormones; exposure to fox odor resulted in an increase in circulating corticosterone levels and prevention of this increase (by means of adrenalectomy plus low-dose corticosterone replacement) eliminated the suppression of cell proliferation. Examination at longer survival times revealed that the decrease in the number of new granule cells in fox odor-exposed animals was transient; a difference was still detectable at 1 week after BrdU labeling but not at 3 weeks. In both fox and sham odor-exposed animals, many new cells acquired morphologic and biochemical characteristics of mature granule neurons. The majority of these cells expressed a marker of immature granule neurons (TuJ1) by 1 week after BrdU labeling and markers of mature granule neurons (calbindin, NeuN) by 3 weeks after labeling. These findings suggest that stressful experiences rapidly diminish cell proliferation by increasing adrenal hormone levels, resulting in a transient decrease in the number of adult-generated immature granule neurons.
Copyright 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.