Social stress-induced serotonin dysfunction activates spexin in male Nile tilapia (Oreochromis Niloticus)

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2023 Jan 17;120(3):e2117547120. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2117547120. Epub 2023 Jan 9.


Social disturbance in interpersonal relationships is the primary source of stress in humans. Spexin (SPX, SPX1a in cichlid), an evolutionarily conserved neuropeptide with diverse physiological functions, is up-regulated in the brain during chronic social defeat stress in teleost. On the other hand, repeated exposure to social stress can lead to dysregulation of the monoaminergic system and increase the vulnerability of developing depression. Since dysfunction of the serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine, 5-HT) system is associated with social stress and the pathophysiology of depression, the present study investigated the regulatory relationship between the central 5-HT system and SPX1a in the male teleost, Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus). To identify stress factors that regulate SPX1a gene expression, cortisol, dexamethasone (DEX), and 5-HT were used to treat tilapia brain primary cultures. Our study shows cortisol and DEX treatment had no effect on SPX1a gene expression, but SPX1a gene expression was down-regulated following 5-HT treatment. Anatomical localization showed a close association between 5-HT immunoreactive projections and SPX1a neurons in the semicircular torus. In addition, 5-HT receptors (5-HT2B) were expressed in SPX1a neurons. SPX1a immunoreactive neurons and SPX1a gene expression were significantly increased in socially defeated tilapia. On the other hand, citalopram (antidepressant, 5-HT antagonist) treatment to socially defeated tilapia normalized SPX1a gene expression to control levels. Taken together, the present study shows that 5-HT is an upstream regulator of SPX1a and that the inhibited 5-HT activates SPX1a during social defeat.

Keywords: HPA; depression; neuropeptide; serotonin; teleost.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism
  • Hydrocortisone / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Peptide Hormones* / metabolism
  • Serotonin* / metabolism
  • Social Defeat*
  • Tilapia* / genetics


  • Hydrocortisone
  • Serotonin
  • Peptide Hormones