The current study, in parallel experiments, evaluated the impact of chronic psychological stress on physiological and behavioural measures, and on the activation status of microglia in 15 stress-responsive brain regions. Rats were subjected, for 14 days, to two 30 min sessions of restraint per day, applied at random times each day. In one experiment the effects of stress on sucrose preference, weight gain, core body temperature, and struggling behaviour during restraint, were determined. In the second experiment we used immunohistochemistry to investigate stress-induced changes in ionized calcium-binding adaptor molecule-1 (Iba1), a marker constitutively expressed by microglia, and major histocompatibility complex-II (MHC-II), a marker often expressed on activated microglia, in a total of 15 stress-responsive nuclei. We also investigated cellular proliferation in these regions using Ki67 immunolabelling, to check for the possibility of microglial proliferation. Collectively, the results we obtained showed that chronic stress induced a significant increase in anhedonia, a decrease in weight gain across the entire observation period, a significant elevation in core body temperature during restraint, and a progressive decrease in struggling behaviour within and over sessions. With regard to microglial activation, chronic stress induced a significant increase in the density of Iba1 immunolabelling (nine of 15 regions) and the number of Iba1-positive cells (eight of 15 regions). Within the regions that exhibited an increased number of Iba1-positive cells after chronic stress, we found no evidence of a between group difference in the number of MHC-II or Ki67 positive cells. In summary, these results clearly demonstrate that chronic stress selectively increases the number of microglia in certain stress-sensitive brain regions, and also causes a marked transition of microglia from a ramified-resting state to a non-resting state. These findings are consistent with the view that microglial activation could play an important role in controlling and/or adapting to stress.
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