Development by environment interactions controlling tryptophan hydroxylase expression.
Dysfunctions of the brain 5-HT system are often associated with affective disorders, such as depression. The raphe nuclei target the limbic system and most forebrain areas and constitute the main source of 5-HT in the brain. All 5-HT neurons express tryptophan hydroxylase-2 (TPH2), the brain specific, rate-limiting enzyme for 5-HT synthesis. Estrogen receptor (ER) beta agonists have been shown to attenuate anxiety- and despair-like behaviors in rodent models. Therefore, we tested the hypothesis that ER beta may contribute to the regulation of gene expression in 5-HT neurons of the dorsal raphe nuclei (DRN) by examining the effects of systemic and local application of the selective ER beta agonist diarylpropionitrile (DPN) on tph2 mRNA expression. Ovariectomized (OVX) female rats were injected s.c. with DPN or vehicle once daily for 8 days. In situ hybridization revealed that systemic DPN-treatment elevated basal tph2 mRNA expression in the caudal and mid-dorsal DRN. Behavioral testing of all animals in the open field (OF) and on the elevated plus maze (EPM) on days 6 and 7 of treatment confirmed the anxiolytic nature of ER beta activation. Another cohort of female OVX rats was stereotaxically implanted bilaterally with hormone-containing wax pellets flanking the DRN. Pellets contained 17-beta-estradiol (E), DPN, or no hormone. Both DPN and E significantly enhanced tph2 mRNA expression in the mid-dorsal DRN. DPN also increased tph2 mRNA in the caudal DRN. DPN- and E-treated rats displayed a more active stress-coping behavior in the forced-swim test (FST). No behavioral differences were found in the OF or on the EPM. These data indicate that ER beta acts at the level of the rat DRN to modulate tph2 mRNA expression and thereby influence 5-HT synthesis in DRN subregions. Our results also suggest that local activation of ER beta neurons in the DRN may be sufficient to decrease despair-like behavior, but not anxiolytic behaviors.