In the past several decades, the therapeutic use of anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS) has been overshadowed by illicit use of these drugs by elite athletes and a growing number of adolescents to enhance performance and body image. As with adults, AAS use by adolescents is associated with a range of behavioral effects, including increased anxiety and altered responses to stress. It has been suggested that adolescents, especially adolescent females, may be particularly susceptible to the effects of these steroids, but few experiments in animal models have been performed to test this assertion. Here we show that chronic exposure of adolescent female mice to a mixture of three commonly abused AAS (testosterone cypionate, nandrolone decanoate and methandrostenolone; 7.5 mg/kg/day for 5 days) significantly enhanced anxiety-like behavior as assessed by the acoustic startle response (ASR), but did not augment the fear-potentiated startle response (FPS) or alter sensorimotor gating as assessed by prepulse inhibition of the acoustic startle response (PPI). AAS treatment also significantly increased the levels of corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) mRNA and somal-associated CRF immunoreactivity in the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA), as well as neuropil-associated immunoreactivity in the dorsal aspect of the anterolateral division of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (dBnST). AAS treatment did not alter CRF receptor 1 or 2 mRNA in either the CeA or the dBnST; CRF immunoreactivity in the ventral BnST, the paraventricular nucleus (PVN) or the median eminence (ME); or peripheral levels of corticosterone. These results suggest that chronic AAS treatment of adolescent female mice may enhance generalized anxiety, but not sensorimotor gating or learned fear, via a mechanism that involves increased CRF-mediated signaling from CeA neurons projecting to the dBnST.
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