Repeated stress induces a pro-inflammatory state, increases amygdala neuronal and microglial activation, and causes anxiety in adult male rats

Brain Behav Immun. 2020 Feb:84:180-199. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2019.11.023. Epub 2019 Nov 27.


A link exists between immune function and psychiatric conditions, particularly depressive and anxiety disorders. Psychological stress is a powerful trigger for these disorders and stress influences immune state. However, the nature of peripheral immune changes after stress conflicts across studies, perhaps due to the focus on few measures of pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory processes. The basolateral amygdala (BLA) is critical for emotion, and plays an important role in the effects of stress on anxiety. As such, it may be a primary central nervous system (CNS) mediator for the effects of peripheral immune changes on anxiety after stress. Therefore, this study aimed to delineate the influence of stress on peripheral pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory aspects, BLA immune activation, and its impact on BLA neuronal activity. To produce a more encompassing view of peripheral immune changes, this study used a less restrictive approach to categorize and group peripheral immune changes. We found that repeated social defeat stress in adult male Sprague-Dawley rats increased the frequencies of mature T-cells positive for intracellular type 2-like cytokine and serum pro-inflammatory cytokines. Principal component analysis and hierarchical clustering was used to guide grouping of T-cells and cytokines, producing unique profiles. Stress shifted the balance towards a specific set that included mostly type 2-like T-cells and pro-inflammatory cytokines. Within the CNS component, repeated stress caused an increase of activated microglia in the BLA, increased anxiety-like behaviors across several assays, and increased BLA neuronal firing in vivo that was prevented by blockade of microglia activation. Because repeated stress can trigger anxiety states by actions in the BLA, and altered immune function can trigger anxiety, these results suggest that repeated stress may trigger anxiety-like behaviors by inducing a pro-inflammatory state in the periphery and the BLA. These results begin to uncover how stress may recruit the immune system to alter the function of brain regions critical to emotion.

Keywords: Basolateral amygdala; Behavior; Cytokines; In vivo electrophysiology; Microglia; Social defeat stress; T-cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala* / physiopathology
  • Animals
  • Anxiety* / etiology
  • Male
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Stress, Psychological* / complications