Chronic or repeated stressor exposure can induce a number of maladaptive behavioral and physiological consequences and among limbic structures, the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) has been implicated in the integration and interpretation of stress responses. Previous work has demonstrated that chronic variate stress (CVS) exposure in rodents increases BNST pituitary adenylate cyclase activating polypeptide (PACAP, Adcyap1) and PAC1 receptor (Adcyap1r1) transcript expression, and that acute BNST PACAP injections can stimulate anxiety-like behavior. Here we show that chronic stress increases PACAP expression selectively in the oval nucleus of the dorsolateral BNST in patterns distinct from those for corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH). Among receptor subtypes, BNST PACAP signaling through PAC1 receptors not only heightened anxiety responses as measured by different behavioral parameters but also induced anorexic-like behavior to mimic the consequences of stress. Conversely, chronic inhibition of BNST PACAP signaling by continuous infusion with the PAC1 receptor antagonist PACAP(6-38) during the week of CVS attenuated these stress-induced behavioral responses and changes in weight gain. BNST PACAP signaling stimulated the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and heightened corticosterone release; further, BNST PACAP(6-38) administration blocked corticosterone release in a sensitized stress model. In aggregate with recent associations of PACAP/PAC1 receptor dysregulation with altered stress responses including post-traumatic stress disorder, these data suggest that BNST PACAP/PAC1 receptor signaling mechanisms may coordinate the behavioral and endocrine consequences of stress.
Keywords: Anxiety-related behavior; Bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST); Chronic variate stress; Hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis; PAC1 receptor; Pituitary adenylate cyclase activating polypeptide (PACAP).
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