Enhanced innate fear and altered stress axis regulation in VGluT3 knockout mice

Stress. 2018 Mar;21(2):151-161. doi: 10.1080/10253890.2017.1423053. Epub 2018 Jan 8.


Glutamatergic neurons, characterized by vesicular glutamate transporters (VGluT1-3) provide the main excitation in the brain. Their disturbances have been linked to various brain disorders, which could be also modeled by the contextual fear test in rodents. We aimed to characterize the participation of VGluT3 in the development of contextual fear through its contribution to hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis (HPA) regulation using knockout (KO) mice. Contextual fear conditioning was induced by foot shock and mice were examined 1 and 7 d later in the same environment comparing wild type with KO. Foot shock increased the immobility time without context specificity. Additionally, foot shock reduced open arm time in the elevated plus maze (EPM) test, and distance traveled in the open field (OF) test, representing the generalization of fear. Moreover, KO mice spent more time with freezing during the contextual fear test, less time in the open arm of the EPM, and traveled a smaller distance in the OF, with less entries into the central area. However, there was no foot shock and genotype interaction suggesting that VGluT3 does not influence the fear conditioning, rather determines anxiety-like characteristic of the mice. The resting hypothalamic CRH mRNA was higher in KO mice with reduced stressor-induced corticosterone elevations. Immunohistochemistry revealed the presence of VGluT3 positive fibers in the paraventricular nucleus of hypothalamus, but not on the hypophysis. As a summary, we confirmed the involvement of VGluT3 in innate fear, but not in the development of fear memory and generalization, with a significant contribution to HPA alterations. Highlights VGluT3 KO mice show innate fear without significant influence on fear memory and generalization. A putative background is the higher resting CRH mRNA level in their PVN and reduced stress-reactivity.

Keywords: Conditioned fear; HPA-axis; corticosterone; corticotropin-releasing hormone; elevated plus maze; open-field.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Transport Systems, Acidic / genetics
  • Amino Acid Transport Systems, Acidic / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology
  • Corticosterone / blood
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Hypothalamus / metabolism
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Neurons / metabolism


  • Amino Acid Transport Systems, Acidic
  • vesicular glutamate transporter 3, mouse
  • Corticosterone