Serotonin depletion during synaptogenesis leads to decreased synaptic density and learning deficits in the adult rat: a possible model of neurodevelopmental disorders with cognitive deficits

Brain Res. 1997 Jun 20;760(1-2):68-73. doi: 10.1016/s0006-8993(97)00297-7.


Studies in the past have revealed serotonin to play a role in regulating the development and maturation of the mammalian brain, largely through the release of the astroglial protein S-100beta. S-100beta plays a role in neurite extension, microtubule and dendritic stabilization and regulation of the growth associated protein GAP-43, all of which are key elements in the production of synapses. Depletion of serotonin, and thus of S-100beta, during synaptogenesis should lead to a loss of synapses and the behaviors dependent on those synapses. The current study was undertaken to test this hypothesis. In order to assess the influence of serotonin we have looked at the synaptic density in the adult after depletion, by using immunodensitometry of synaptic markers (synaptophysin and MAP-2) and by studying behaviors thought to be highly dependent on synaptic plasticity and density. Male Sprague-Dawley rats were depleted of serotonin on postnatal days (PND) 10-20 by treating with the tryptophan hydroxylase inhibitor parachlorophenylalanine (PCPA; 100 mg/kg, s.c.). On PND's 30 and 62, animals were perfused for immunodensitometry. Littermates were used for behavioral testing. At PND 55-62, the animals were tested in an interchangeable maze with olfactory cues and in an eight-arm radial maze. Our results show a loss of both synaptic markers in the hippocampus on PND 30. At PND 62, the only remaining loss was of the dendritic marker MAP-2. The animals had deficits in both behaviors tested, suggestive of spacial learning deficits and of the failure to extinguish learned behaviors or to re-learn in a new set. Our findings show the long-term consequences of interfering with the role of serotonin in brain development on the morphology and function of the adult brain. These findings may have implications for human diseases, including schizophrenia, thought to be related to neurodevelopmental insults such as malnutrition, hypoxia, viruses or in utero drug exposure. Moreover, they provide further insights into the functioning of serotonin and S-100beta in development and aging.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Count
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Female
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Nervous System Diseases / pathology
  • Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Presynaptic Terminals / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Serotonin / metabolism*


  • Serotonin