Glucocorticoid hormones and serotonin (5-HT) are strongly associated with the development and treatment of depression, respectively. Glucocorticoids regulate the function of serotonergic neurons in the dorsal raphe nucleus (DR), which are the major source of 5-HT to the forebrain. DR 5-HT neurons are electrophysiologically heterogeneous, though whether this phenotypic variation aligns with specific brain functions or neuropsychiatric disease states is largely unknown. The goal of this work was to determine if chronic exogenous glucocorticoid administration differentially affects the electrophysiological profile of DR neurons implicated in the regulation of emotion versus visual sensation by comparing properties of cells projecting to medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) versus lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN). Following retrograde tracer injection into mPFC or LGN, male Sprague-Dawley rats received daily injections of corticosterone (CORT) for 21 days, after which whole-cell patch clamp recordings were made from retrogradely labeled DR neurons. CORT-treatment significantly increased the action potential half-width of LGN-projecting DR neurons, but did not significantly affect the firing frequency or excitatory postsynaptic currents of these cells. CORT-treatment significantly reduced the input resistance, evoked firing frequency, and spontaneous excitatory postsynaptic current frequency of mPFC-projecting DR neurons, indicating a concurrent reduction of both intrinsic excitability and excitatory drive. Our results suggest that the serotonergic regulation of cognitive and emotional networks in the mPFC may be more sensitive to the effects of glucocorticoid excess than visual sensory circuits in the LGN and that reduced 5-HT transmission in the mPFC may underlie the association between glucocorticoid excess and depression.
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