Optogenetic examination identifies a context-specific role for orexins/hypocretins in anxiety-related behavior

Physiol Behav. 2014 May 10:130:182-90. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2013.10.005. Epub 2013 Oct 18.


Maladaptation to stress is associated with psychopathology. However, our understanding of the underlying neural circuitry involved in adaptations to stress is limited. Previous work from our lab indicated the paraventricular hypothalamic neuropeptides orexins/hypocretins regulate behavioral and neuroendocrine responses to stress. To further elucidate the role of orexins in adaptation to stress, we employed optogenetic techniques to specifically examine the effects of orexin cell activation on behavior in the social interaction test and in the home cage as well as orexin receptor 1 internalization and ERK phosphorylation in brain regions receiving orexin inputs. In the social interaction test, optogenetic stimulation of orexin neurons decreased time spent in the interaction zone while increasing the frequency of entries into the interaction zone. In addition, optogenetic stimulation of orexin neurons increased the total distance traveled in the social interaction arena but had no effect on their home cage behavior. Together, these results suggest that orexin release increases anxiety in the social interaction test while increasing the salience of novel but not familiar environmental stimuli. Consistent with activation of orexin neurons, optogenetic stimulation increased orexin receptor1 internalization and ERK phosphorylation in the paraventricular thalamus (PVT) and locus coeruleus (LC), two regions heavily innervated by orexin neurons. Together these results show for the first time that elevation of orexin activity, possibly in the PVT and LC, is associated with increased anxiety, activity, and arousal in a context-specific manner.

Keywords: Anxiety; Hypocretins; Optogenetics; Orexins; Social interaction; Stress.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Environment
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology*
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases / metabolism
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / metabolism*
  • Locus Coeruleus / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Midline Thalamic Nuclei / physiopathology
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Neuropeptides / metabolism*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Optogenetics
  • Orexin Receptors / metabolism
  • Orexins
  • Phosphorylation
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos / metabolism
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Social Behavior


  • Hcrtr1 protein, rat
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Neuropeptides
  • Orexin Receptors
  • Orexins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases