The development and relapse of many psychopathologies can be linked to both stress and prefrontal cortex dysfunction. Glucocorticoid stress hormones target medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and either chronic stress or chronic administration of glucocorticoids produces dendritic remodeling in prefrontal pyramidal neurons. Exposure to stress also causes an increase in the release of the excitatory amino acid glutamate, which binds to N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors, which are plentiful in mPFC. NMDA receptor activation is crucial for producing hippocampal dendritic remodeling due to stress and for dendritic reorganization in frontal cortex after cholinergic deafferentation. Thus, NMDA receptors could mediate stress-induced dendritic retraction in mPFC. To test this hypothesis, dendritic morphology of pyramidal cells in mPFC was assessed after blocking NMDA receptors with the competitive NMDA antagonist ±3-(2-carboxypiperazin-4yl)propyl-1-phosphonic acid (CPP) during restraint stress. Administration of CPP prevented stress-induced dendritic atrophy. Instead, CPP-injected stressed rats showed hypertrophy of apical dendrites compared with controls. These results suggest that NMDA activation is crucial for stress-induced dendritic atrophy in mPFC. Furthermore, NMDA receptor blockade uncovers a new pattern of stress-induced dendritic changes, suggesting that other neurohormonal changes in concert with NMDA receptor activation underlie the net dendritic retraction seen after chronic stress.
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