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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Regional differences in acute corticosterone-induced dendritic remodeling in the rat brain and their behavioral consequences

Hyejin Kim1, Jee Hyun Yi1, Kyuhyun Choi1, Seokheon Hong2, Ki Soon Shin1* and Shin Jung Kang2*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biology, Department of Life and Nanopharmaceutical Sciences, Kyung Hee University, 130-701 Seoul, Republic of Korea

2 Department of Molecular Biology, Sejong University, 143-747 Seoul, Republic of Korea

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BMC Neuroscience 2014, 15:65  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-15-65

Published: 22 May 2014



Glucocorticoid released by stressful stimuli elicits various stress responses. Acute treatment with a single dose of corticosterone (CORT; predominant glucocorticoid of rats) alone has previously been shown to trigger anxiety behavior and robust dendritic hypertrophy of neurons in the basolateral amygdala (BLA). Neurons in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) are also known to be highly sensitive to stress and regulate anxiety-like behaviors. Nevertheless, we know less about acute CORT-induced structural changes of other brain regions and their behavioral outcomes. In addition, the temporal profile of acute CORT effects remains to be examined. The current study investigates time course changes of dendritic architectures in the stress vulnerable brain areas, the BLA and mPFC, and their behavioral consequences after acute treatment with a single dose of CORT.


Acute CORT treatment produced delayed onset of dendritic remodeling in the opposite direction in the BLA and mPFC with different time courses. Acute CORT induced dendritic hypertrophy of BLA spiny neurons, which was paralleled by heightened anxiety, both peaked 12 days after the treatment. Meanwhile, CORT-induced dendritic atrophy of mPFC pyramidal neurons peaked on day 6, concomitantly with impaired working memory. Both changed dendritic morphologies and altered behavioral outcomes were fully recovered.


Our results suggest that stress-induced heightened anxiety appears to be a functional consequence of dendritic remodeling of BLA neurons but not that of mPFC. Instead, stress-induced dendritic atrophy of mPFC neurons is relevant to working memory deficit. Therefore, structural changes in the BLA and the mPFC might be specifically associated with distinct behavioral symptoms observed in stress-related mental disorders. Remarkably, stress-induced dendritic remodeling in the BLA as well as mPFC is readily reversible. The related behavioral outcomes also follow the similar time course in a reversible manner. Therefore, further studies on the cellular mechanism for the plasticity of dendrites architecture might provide new insight into the etiological factors for stress-related mental illness such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Corticosterone; Basolateral amygdala; Medial prefrontal cortex; Stress; Working memory; Anxiety