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Age- and sex-dependent impact of repeated social stress on morphology of rat prefrontal cortex pyramidal neurons.

  • Urban, Kimberly R1
  • Geng, Eric1
  • Bhatnagar, Seema1, 2
  • Valentino, Rita J1, 2
  • 1 Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA, 19104, USA.
  • 2 The Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA, 19104, USA.
Published Article
Neurobiology of stress
Publication Date
Feb 01, 2019
DOI: 10.1016/j.ynstr.2019.100165
PMID: 31193524


Chronic stress can lead to psychiatric illness characterized by impairments of executive function, implicating the prefrontal cortex as a target of stress-related pathology. Previous studies have shown that various types of chronic stress paradigms reduce dendritic branching, length and spines of medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) pyramidal neurons. However, these studies largely focused on layer II/III pyramidal neurons in adult male rats with less known about layer V, the site of projection neurons. Because the prefrontal cortex develops throughout adolescence, stress during adolescence may have a greater impact on structure and function than stress occurring during adulthood. Furthermore, females display greater risk of stress-related psychiatric disorders, indicating sex-specific responses to stress. In this study, male and female adolescent (42-48 days old, 4 rats per group) or adult (68-72 days old, 4 rats per group) Sprague-Dawley rats were exposed to 5 days of repeated social stress in the resident-intruder paradigm or control manipulation. We examined dendritic morphology of cells in the mPFC in both layer II/III and Layer V. Repeated social stress resulted in decreased dendritic branching in layer II/III apical dendrites regardless of sex or age. In apical layer V dendrites, stress increased branching in adult males but decreased it in all other groups. Stress resulted in a decrease in dendritic spines in layer V apical dendrites for male adolescents and female adults, and this was mostly due to a decrease in filopodial and mushroom spines for male adolescents, but stubby spines for female adults. In sum, these results suggest that repeated stress reduces complexity and synaptic connectivity in adolescents and female adults in both input and output layers of prelimbic mPFC, but not in male adults. These changes may represent a potential underlying mechanism as to why adolescents and females are more susceptible to the negative cognitive effects of repeated or chronic stress.

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