Differential Susceptibility to Extinction-Induced Despair and Age-Dependent Alterations in the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis and Neurochemical Parameters

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Neuropsychobiology, Volume 58, Number 3-4, p.138-153 (2008)



DOI Name (links to online publication)



Adult; ADULT RAT; AGE; Aged; analysis; Animal; Animals; AREA; AXIS; Behavior; Brain; BROWN-NORWAY RATS; CHRONIC ANTIDEPRESSANT TREATMENT; Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone; Depression; GLUCOCORTICOID-RECEPTOR; GR; Hormones; HPA; HPA axis; HPA-axis; Human; h


Clinical studies point to structural differences in the neurobiological mechanisms underlying early versus late onset of depression. However, studies examining the neuropathology of depressive-like behavior induced in the aged rodent are sparse. Extinction of learned behavior induces behavioral 'despair', and is held to provide a conceptual and empirical model of human depression resulting from the withdrawal of reinforcement. We tested whether the neuro-endocrinological and chemical concomitants of susceptibility to extinction-induced despair in aged animals differed from adult ones. Following the withholding of reinforcement (extinction of escape from a water maze), a number of aged and adult rats are prone to develop depressive-like behavior, i.e. immobility. Analysis of hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis markers revealed an increase in the mineralocorticoid/glucocorticoid receptor (MR/GR) mRNA ratio in the CA1 region of the hippo campus in aged and adult despair animals; however, in dependence on age, divergent changes contributed to the enhanced ratio. While aged despair rats had less GR mRNA, adult despair rats had more MR mRNA. Furthermore, age- and despair-related interactions with hippocampal and cortical steroid receptor co-activators and neurotransmitter contents in diverse brain areas were found. For instance, adult despair rats had an increased, and aged despair rats a decreased, DOPAC/dopamine turnover compared to the respective non-despair group. These results show that neurobiological underpinnings of depression in the aged differ from those of adults, and underline the importance of investigating age-related alterations in HPA axis dynamics in conjunction with neurotransmitter systems to advance our knowledge about neuronal mechanisms of late-life and/or late-onset depression. Copyright (c) 2008 S. Karger AG, Basel