Previous research demonstrates that Slc6a15, a neutral amino acid transporter, is associated with depression susceptibility. However, no study examined Slc6a15 in the ventral striatum [nucleus accumbens (NAc)] in depression. Given our previous characterization of Slc6a15 as a striatal dopamine receptor 2 (D2)-neuron-enriched gene, we examined the role of Slc6a15 in NAc D2-neurons in mediating susceptibility to stress in male mice. First, we showed that Slc6a15 mRNA was reduced in NAc of mice susceptible to chronic social defeat stress (CSDS), a paradigm that produces behavioral and molecular adaptations that resemble clinical depression. Consistent with our preclinical data, we observed Slc6a15 mRNA reduction in NAc of individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD). The Slc6a15 reduction in NAc occurred selectively in D2-neurons. Next, we used Cre-inducible viruses combined with D2-Cre mice to reduce or overexpress Slc6a15 in NAc D2-neurons. Slc6a15 reduction in D2-neurons caused enhanced susceptibility to a subthreshold social defeat stress (SSDS) as observed by reduced social interaction, while a reduction in social interaction following CSDS was not observed when Slc6a15 expression in D2-neurons was restored. Finally, since both D2-medium spiny neurons (MSNs) and D2-expressing choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) interneurons express Slc6a15, we examined Slc6a15 protein in these interneurons after CSDS. Slc6a15 protein was unaltered in ChAT interneurons. Consistent with this, reducing Slc5a15 selectively in NAc D2-MSNs, using A2A-Cre mice that express Cre selectively in D2-MSNs, caused enhanced susceptibility to SSDS. Collectively, our data demonstrate that reduced Slc6a15 in NAc occurs in MDD individuals and that Slc6a15 reduction in NAc D2-neurons underlies stress susceptibility.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Our study demonstrates a role for reduced Slc6a15, a neutral amino acid transporter, in nucleus accumbens (NAc) in depression and stress susceptibility. The reduction of Slc6a15 occurs selectively in the NAc D2-neurons. Genetic reduction of Slc6a15 induces susceptibility to a subthreshold stress, while genetic overexpression in D2-neurons prevents social avoidance after chronic social defeat stress.
Keywords: Slc6a15; depression; medium spiny neurons; nucleus accumbens; social defeat stress.
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