Amygdalar Endocannabinoids Are Affected by Predator Odor Stress in a Sex-Specific Manner and Modulate Acoustic Startle Reactivity in Female Rats

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Neurobiology of Stress


Understanding sex differences in behavioral and molecular effects of stress has important implications for understanding the vulnerability to chronic psychiatric disorders associated with stress response circuitry. The amygdala is critical for emotional learning and generating behavioral responses to stressful stimuli, and preclinical studies indicate that amygdalar endocannabinoid (eCB) signaling regulates emotional states. This study measured eCB contents in the basolateral (BLA) and central (CeA) amygdala of male and female rats exposed to predator odor stress (bobcat urine) and tested for contextual avoidance 24 h later. Stressed females had lower levels of 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG) in the BLA and higher levels of anandamide (AEA) in the CeA, while exposure to bobcat urine did not affect amygdalar eCB contents in males. We previously reported that female rats exposed to bobcat urine exhibit blunted acoustic startle reactivity (ASR) 48 h after predator odor stress. Therefore, we tested the hypothesis that intra-BLA injection of a diacylglycerol lipase (DAGL) inhibitor (which would be expected to reduce 2-AG levels in BLA) and intra-CeA injection of a fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) inhibitor (which would be expected to increase AEA levels in CeA) would mimic previously observed predator odor stress-induced reductions in ASR. Contrary to our hypothesis, microinjections of either the DAGL inhibitor DO34 into the BLA or the FAAH inhibitor URB597 into the CeA significantly increased ASR in females compared to vehicle-treated rats. These findings describe sex-specific effects of predator odor stress on amygdalar eCBs, and new roles for amygdalar eCBs in regulating behavior in females.

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