Maladaptive responses to stress adversely affect human behavior, yet the signaling mechanisms underlying stress-responsive behaviors remain poorly understood. Using a conditional gene knockout approach, the α isoform of p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) was selectively inactivated by AAV1-Cre-recombinase infection in specific brain regions or by promoter-driven excision of p38α MAPK in serotonergic neurons (by Slc6a4-Cre or ePet1-Cre) or astrocytes (by Gfap-CreERT2). Social defeat stress produced social avoidance (a model of depression-like behaviors) and reinstatement of cocaine preference (a measure of addiction risk) in wild-type mice, but not in mice having p38α MAPK selectively deleted in serotonin-producing neurons of the dorsal raphe nucleus. Stress-induced activation of p38α MAPK translocated the serotonin transporter to the plasma membrane and increased the rate of transmitter uptake at serotonergic nerve terminals. These findings suggest that stress initiates a cascade of molecular and cellular events in which p38α MAPK induces a hyposerotonergic state underlying depression-like and drug-seeking behaviors.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The authors would like to thank Drs. Larry Zweifel and Ali Guler (University of Washington) for helpful discussion. The floxed p38α (p38α lox ) transgenic mice were provided by Dr. K. Otsu (Osaka University) though the RIKEN Bioresearch Center. The SERT-Cre mice were provided by Dr. Xiaoxi Zhuang (University of Chicago). The GFAP-CreERT2 mice were provided by Dr. Hans Kirchoff (University of Leipzig). Dr. Evan Deneris (Case Western Reserve University) provided the ePET1-Cre driver line. Support was provided by USPHS grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse RO1-DA030074, R21-DA025970, RO1-DA016898, T32-DA07278, KO5-DA020570 (C.C.), K99-DA025182 (M.R.B.), and the Hope for Depression Research Foundation (C.C.).