Chronic Stress Induces Brain Region-Specific Alterations of Molecular Rhythms that Correlate with Depression-like Behavior in Mice

Biol Psychiatry. 2015 Aug 15;78(4):249-58. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2015.01.011. Epub 2015 Feb 4.


Background: Emerging evidence implicates circadian abnormalities as a component of the pathophysiology of major depressive disorder (MDD). The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus coordinates rhythms throughout the brain and body. On a cellular level, rhythms are generated by transcriptional, translational, and posttranslational feedback loops of core circadian genes and proteins. In patients with MDD, recent evidence suggests reduced amplitude of molecular rhythms in extra-SCN brain regions. We investigated whether unpredictable chronic mild stress (UCMS), an animal model that induces a depression-like physiological and behavioral phenotype, induces circadian disruptions similar to those seen with MDD.

Methods: Activity and temperature rhythms were recorded in C57BL/6J mice before, during, and after exposure to UCMS, and brain tissue explants were collected from Period2 luciferase mice following UCMS to assess cellular rhythmicity.

Results: UCMS significantly decreased circadian amplitude of activity and body temperature in mice, similar to findings in MDD patients, and these changes directly correlated with depression-related behavior. While amplitude of molecular rhythms in the SCN was decreased following UCMS, surprisingly, rhythms in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) were amplified with no changes seen in the prefrontal cortex or amygdala. These molecular rhythm changes in the SCN and the NAc also directly correlated with mood-related behavior.

Conclusions: These studies found that circadian rhythm abnormalities directly correlate with depression-related behavior following UCMS and suggest a desynchronization of rhythms in the brain with an independent enhancement of rhythms in the NAc.

Keywords: Amplitude; Chronic stress; Circadian; Depression; LumiCycle; Period2.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety / metabolism
  • Body Temperature
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / metabolism*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Motor Activity
  • Nucleus Accumbens / metabolism*
  • Period Circadian Proteins / genetics
  • Period Circadian Proteins / metabolism*
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus / metabolism*


  • Period Circadian Proteins