Patients suffering from mood disorders and anxiety commonly exhibit hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis and autonomic hyperresponsiveness. A wealth of data using preclinical animal models and human patient samples indicate that p11 deficiency is implicated in depression-like phenotypes. In the present study, we used p11-deficient (p11KO) mice to study potential roles of p11 in stress responsiveness. We measured stress response using behavioral, endocrine, and physiological readouts across early postnatal and adult life. Our data show that p11KO pups respond more strongly to maternal separation than wild-type pups, even though their mothers show no deficits in maternal behavior. Adult p11KO mice display hyperactivity of the HPA axis, which is paralleled by depression- and anxiety-like behaviors. p11 was found to be highly enriched in vasopressinergic cells of the paraventricular nucleus and regulates HPA hyperactivity in a V1B receptor-dependent manner. Moreover, p11KO mice display sympathetic-adrenal-medullary (SAM) axis hyperactivity, with elevated adrenal norepinephrine and epinephrine levels. Using conditional p11KO mice, we demonstrate that this SAM hyperactivity is partially regulated by the loss of p11 in serotonergic neurons of the raphe nuclei. Telemetric electrocardiogram measurements show delayed heart rate recovery in p11KO mice in response to novelty exposure and during expression of fear following auditory trace fear conditioning. Furthermore, p11KO mice have elevated basal heart rate in fear conditioning tests indicating increased autonomic responsiveness. This set of experiments provide strong and versatile evidence that p11 deficiency leads to HPA and SAM axes hyperresponsiveness along with increased stress reactivity.
© 2020. The Author(s).