Acute Chemogenetic Activation of CamKIIα-Positive Forebrain Excitatory Neurons Regulates Anxiety-Like Behaviour in Mice

Front Behav Neurosci. 2019 Oct 29:13:249. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2019.00249. eCollection 2019.


Anxiety disorders are amongst the most prevalent mental health disorders. Several lines of evidence have implicated cortical regions such as the medial prefrontal cortex, orbitofrontal cortex, and insular cortex along with the hippocampus in the top-down modulation of anxiety-like behaviour in animal models. Both rodent models of anxiety, as well as treatment with anxiolytic drugs, result in the concomitant activation of multiple forebrain regions. Here, we sought to examine the effects of chemogenetic activation or inhibition of forebrain principal neurons on anxiety and despair-like behaviour. We acutely activated or inhibited Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II α (CamKIIα)-positive forebrain excitatory neurons using the hM3Dq or the hM4Di Designer Receptor Exclusively Activated by Designer Drug (DREADD) respectively. Circuit activation was confirmed via an increase in expression of the immediate early gene, c-Fos, within both the hippocampus and the neocortex. We then examined the influence of DREADD-mediated activation of forebrain excitatory neurons on behavioural tests for anxiety and despair-like behaviour. Our results indicate that acute hM3Dq DREADD activation of forebrain excitatory neurons resulted in a significant decline in anxiety-like behaviour on the open field, light-dark avoidance, and the elevated plus maze test. In contrast, hM3Dq DREADD activation of forebrain excitatory neurons did not alter despair-like behaviour on either the tail suspension or forced swim tests. Acute hM4Di DREADD inhibition of CamKIIα-positive forebrain excitatory neurons did not modify either anxiety or despair-like behaviour. Taken together, our results demonstrate that chemogenetic activation of excitatory neurons in the forebrain decreases anxiety-like behaviour in mice.

Keywords: DREADD; anxiety; clozapine-N-oxide; elevated plus maze; hM3Dq; hM4Di; light–dark avoidance test; open field test.