Dendritic morphology of hippocampal and amygdalar neurons in adolescent mice is resilient to genetic differences in stress reactivity

PLoS One. 2012;7(6):e38971. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0038971. Epub 2012 Jun 12.


Many studies have shown that chronic stress or corticosterone over-exposure in rodents leads to extensive dendritic remodeling, particularly of principal neurons in the CA3 hippocampal area and the basolateral amygdala. We here investigated to what extent genetic predisposition of mice to high versus low stress reactivity, achieved through selective breeding of CD-1 mice, is also associated with structural plasticity in Golgi-stained neurons. Earlier, it was shown that the highly stress reactive (HR) compared to the intermediate (IR) and low (LR) stress reactive mice line presents a phenotype, with respect to neuroendocrine parameters, sleep architecture, emotional behavior and cognition, that recapitulates some of the features observed in patients suffering from major depression. In late adolescent males of the HR, IR, and LR mouse lines, we observed no significant differences in total dendritic length, number of branch points and branch tips, summated tip order, number of primary dendrites or dendritic complexity of either CA3 pyramidal neurons (apical as well as basal dendrites) or principal neurons in the basolateral amygdala. Apical dendrites of CA1 pyramidal neurons were also unaffected by the differences in stress reactivity of the animals; marginally higher length and complexity of the basal dendrites were found in LR compared to IR but not HR mice. In the same CA1 pyramidal neurons, spine density of distal apical tertiary dendrites was significantly higher in LR compared to IR or HR animals. We tentatively conclude that the dendritic complexity of principal hippocampal and amygdala neurons is remarkably stable in the light of a genetic predisposition to high versus low stress reactivity, while spine density seems more plastic. The latter possibly contributes to the behavioral phenotype of LR versus HR animals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / cytology*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Corticosterone / blood
  • Dendrites / ultrastructure*
  • Dendritic Spines / ultrastructure*
  • Hippocampus / cytology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred Strains
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Phenotype*
  • Stress, Physiological / genetics*
  • Stress, Physiological / physiology


  • Corticosterone