Role of 5-HT in stress, anxiety, and depression

Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1996 May;54(1):129-41. doi: 10.1016/0091-3057(95)02135-3.


There are conflicting results on the function of 5-HT in anxiety and depression. To reconcile this evidence, Deakin and Graeff have suggested that the ascending 5-HT pathway that originates in the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN) and innervates the amygdala and frontal cortex facilitates conditioned fear, while the DRN-periventricular pathway innervating the periventricular and periaqueductal gray matter inhibits inborn fight/flight reactions to impending danger, pain, or asphyxia. To study the role of the DRN 5-HT system in anxiety, we microinjected 8-OH-DPAT into the DRN to inhibit 5-HT release. This treatment impaired inhibitory avoidance (conditioned fear) without affecting one-way escape (unconditioned fear) in the elevated T-maze, a new animal model of anxiety. We also applied three drug treatments that increase 5-HT release from DRN terminals: 1) intra-DRN microinjection of the benzodiazepine inverse agonist FG 4172, 2) intra-DRN microinjection of the excitatory amino acid kainic acid, and 3) intraperitoneal injection of the 5-HT releaser and uptake blocker D-fenfluramine. All treatments enhanced inhibitory avoidance in T-maze. D-Fenfluramine and intra-DRN kainate also decreased one-way escape. In healthy volunteers, D-fenfluramine and the 5-HT agonist mCPP (mainly 5-HT2C) increased, while the antagonists ritanserin (5-HT2A/2C) and SR 46349B (5-HT2A) decreased skin conductance responses to an aversively conditioned stimulus (tone). In addition, D-fenfluramine decreased, whereas ritanserin increased subjective anxiety induced by simulated public speaking, thought to represent unconditioned anxiety. Overall, these results are compatible with the above hypothesis. Deakin and Graeff have suggested that the pathway connecting the median raphe nucleus (MRN) to the dorsal hippocampus promotes resistance to chronic, unavoidable stress. In the present study, we found that 24 h after electrolytic lesion of the rat MRN glandular gastric ulcers occurred, and the immune response to the mitogen concanavalin A was depressed. Seven days after the same lesion, the ulcerogenic effect of restraint was enhanced. Microinjection of 8-OH-DPAT, the nonselective agonist 5-MeO-DMT, or the 5-HT uptake inhibitor zimelidine into the dorsal hippocampus immediately after 2 h of restraint reversed the deficits of open arm exploration in the elevated plus-maze, measured 24 h after restraint. The effect of the two last drugs was antagonized by WAY-100135, a selective 5-HT1A receptor antagonist. These results are compatible with the hypothesis that the MRN-dorsal hippocampus 5-HT system attenuates stress by facilitation of hippocampal 5-HT1A-mediated neurotransmission. Clinical implications of these results are discussed, especially with regard to panic disorder and depression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety / physiopathology
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Rats
  • Serotonin / physiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*


  • Serotonin