Whole-Brain Mapping of Neuronal Activity in the Learned Helplessness Model of Depression

Front Neural Circuits. 2016 Feb 3;10:3. doi: 10.3389/fncir.2016.00003. eCollection 2016.


Some individuals are resilient, whereas others succumb to despair in repeated stressful situations. The neurobiological mechanisms underlying such divergent behavioral responses remain unclear. Here, we employed an automated method for mapping neuronal activity in search of signatures of stress responses in the entire mouse brain. We used serial two-photon tomography to detect expression of c-FosGFP - a marker of neuronal activation - in c-fosGFP transgenic mice subjected to the learned helplessness (LH) procedure, a widely used model of stress-induced depression-like phenotype in laboratory animals. We found that mice showing "helpless" behavior had an overall brain-wide reduction in the level of neuronal activation compared with mice showing "resilient" behavior, with the exception of a few brain areas, including the locus coeruleus, that were more activated in the helpless mice. In addition, the helpless mice showed a strong trend of having higher similarity in whole-brain activity profile among individuals, suggesting that helplessness is represented by a more stereotypic brain-wide activation pattern. This latter effect was confirmed in rats subjected to the LH procedure, using 2-deoxy-2[18F]fluoro-D-glucose positron emission tomography to assess neural activity. Our findings reveal distinct brain activity markings that correlate with adaptive and maladaptive behavioral responses to stress, and provide a framework for further studies investigating the contribution of specific brain regions to maladaptive stress responses.

Keywords: C-fos expression; Positron-emission tomography; depression; learned helplessness; serial two-photon tomography.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biophysics
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Depression / pathology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Electroshock / adverse effects
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18 / pharmacokinetics
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / genetics
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / metabolism
  • Helplessness, Learned*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Positron-Emission Tomography
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins