Brain c-fos expression patterns induced by emotional stressors differing in nature and intensity

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© 2018, Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature. Regardless of its particular nature, emotional stressors appear to elicit a widespread and roughly similar brain activation pattern as evaluated by c-fos expression. However, their behavioral and physiological consequences may strongly differ. Here we addressed in adult male rats the contribution of the intensity and the particular nature of stressors by comparing, in a set of brain areas, the number of c-fos expressing neurons in response to open-field, cat odor or immobilization on boards (IMO). These are qualitatively different stressors that are known to differ in terms of intensity, as evaluated by biological markers. In the present study, plasma levels of the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) demonstrated that intensity increases in the following order: open-field, cat odor and IMO. Four different c-fos activation patterns emerged among all areas studied: (i) positive relationship with intensity (posterior-dorsal medial amygdala, dorsomedial hypothalamus, lateral septum ventral and paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus), (ii) negative relationship with intensity (cingulate cortex 1, posterior insular cortex, dorsal striatum, nucleus accumbens and some subdivisions of the hippocampal formation); (iii) activation not dependent on the intensity of the stressor (prelimbic and infralimbic cortex and lateral and basolateral amygdala); and (iv) activation specifically associated with cat odor (ventromedial amygdala and ventromedial hypothalamus). Histone 3 phosphorylation at serine 10, another neuronal activation marker, corroborated c-fos results. Summarizing, deepest analysis of the brain activation pattern elicit by emotional stressor indicated that, in spite of activating similar areas, each stressor possess their own brain activation signature, mediated mainly by qualitative aspects but also by intensity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2213-2227
JournalBrain Structure and Function
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2018


  • ACTH
  • Cat odor
  • Histone 3 phosphorylation
  • Immobilization
  • Stressor intensity
  • c-fos


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