The activity of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is pivotal in homeostasis and presides the adaptative response to stress. Dopamine Transporter (DAT) plays a key role in the regulation of the HPA axis. We used young adult female DAT Knockout (KO) rats to assess the effects of DAT ablation (partial, heterozygous DAT+/-, or total, homozygous DAT-/-) on vulnerability to stress. DAT-/- rats show profound dysregulation of pituitary homeostasis, in the presence of elevated peripheral corticosterone, before and after acute restraint stress. During stress, DAT-/- rats show abnormal autonomic response at either respiratory and cardiovascular level, and delayed body temperature increase. DAT+/- rats display minor changes of hypophyseal homeostatic mechanisms. These rats display a similar pituitary activation to that of the control animals, albeit in the presence of higher release of peripheral corticosterone than DAT-/- after stress, and reduced temperature during stress. Our data indicate that DAT regulates the HPA axis at both the central and peripheral level, including autonomic function during stress. In particular, the partial deletion of DAT results in increased vulnerability to stress in female rats, which display central and peripheral alterations that are reminiscent of PTSD, and they might provide new insights in the pathophysiology of this disorder.
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