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Aberrant expression of the presynaptic serotonin 1A receptor (5-HT1A-R) because of a polymorphism in the 5-HT1A-R gene is associated with severe depression in human, whereas its absence up to postnatal day 21 (P21) in the forebrain of mice results in heightened anxiety in adulthood. These observations collectively indicate that the 5-HT1A-R has a crucial role in brain development. To understand the mechanistic underpinnings of this phenomenon, we used organotypic slice cultures of hippocampi from C57BL6 mice (C57) at P15, which coincides with the peak of neonatal synaptogenesis. Stimulation of the hippocampal 5-HT1A-R caused a dramatic increase in PSD95 expression and dendritic spine and synapse formation through sequential activation of the mitogen-activated protein kinase isozymes Erk1/2 and protein kinase C (PKC). Intrahippocampal infusion of 5-HT1A-R agonists and signaling inhibitors at P15 revealed that the same pathway through PKCα augments PSD95 expression and synaptogenesis in vivo in 24 h in both C57 as well as Swiss Webster mice. Furthermore, intrahippocampal infusion of the antidepressant fluoxetine, a serotonin reuptake inhibitor, also augmented PSD95 expression and synaptogenesis through the same pathway. This increased synaptogenesis was observed even 5 days after treatment. Finally, compared with the wild type, the 5-HT1A-R(-/-) mice harbor significantly less synapses in the hippocampus, but infusion of the PKC-stimulator and Alzheimer drug bryostatin into the 5-HT1A-R(-/-) mice to bypass the non-existent 5-HT1A-R boosted PSD95 expression and synaptogenesis. The elucidated signaling cascade explains how 5-HT1A-R regulates hippocampal sculpting and function, which may determine the affective phenotype of an adult.


This article originally appeared in Translational Psychiatry, available at DOI: 10.1038/tp.2011.58

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