Glucocorticoid receptors in the nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS) decrease endocrine and behavioral stress responses.

PMID 24845185


Stress activates the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, leading to adrenocortical secretion of glucocorticoids. The magnitude and duration of the HPA axis response is mediated in large part by the glucocorticoid receptor (GR). The nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS) abundantly expresses the GR and is a key brain region for processing autonomic and endocrine stress responses. This study tests the hypothesis that GR within the NTS plays an important role in inhibiting stress-induced endocrine and behavioral responses. Cohorts of rats received bilateral micropellet (30 μg) implantations of crystalline corticosterone, mifepristone (a GR antagonist) or cholesterol (control) directed into the region of the NTS, and were subsequently subjected to either acute psychogenic (restraint) stress or chronic variable stress (CVS). We found that NTS GR antagonism increased acute stress-induced corticosterone levels, whereas GR activation within the NTS attenuated this response. Following CVS, basal and 15 min post-restraint plasma corticosterone levels were increased by NTS GR antagonism, which was associated with an increase in Fos immunoreactivity within the PVN. Using the elevated plus maze (EPM) and forced swim test (FST), we assessed the effect of NTS GR inhibition on anxiety- and depression-like behaviors, respectively. GR inhibition within the NTS decreased open arm exploratory behavior in the EPM and increased immobility in the FST relative to controls. Together, the findings reveal a novel role of NTS GR signaling for inhibiting both endocrine and behavioral responses to stress.