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Open Access Publications from the University of California

New viral-genetic mapping uncovers an enrichment of corticotropin-releasing hormone-expressing neuronal inputs to the nucleus accumbens from stress-related brain regions.

  • Author(s): Itoga, Christy A
  • Chen, Yuncai
  • Fateri, Cameron
  • Echeverry, Paula A
  • Lai, Jennifer M
  • Delgado, Jasmine
  • Badhon, Shapatur
  • Short, Annabel
  • Baram, Tallie Z
  • Xu, Xiangmin
  • et al.

Published Web Location Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License

Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) is an essential, evolutionarily-conserved stress neuropeptide. In addition to hypothalamus, CRH is expressed in brain regions including amygdala and hippocampus where it plays crucial roles in modulating the function of circuits underlying emotion and cognition. CRH+ fibers are found in nucleus accumbens (NAc), where CRH modulates reward/motivation behaviors. CRH actions in NAc may vary by the individual's stress history, suggesting roles for CRH in neuroplasticity and adaptation of the reward circuitry. However, the origin and extent of CRH+ inputs to NAc are incompletely understood. We employed viral genetic approaches to map both global and CRH+ projection sources to NAc in mice. We injected into NAc variants of a new designer adeno-associated virus that permits robust retrograde access to NAc-afferent projection neurons. Cre-dependent viruses injected into CRH-Cre mice enabled selective mapping of CRH+ afferents. We employed anterograde AAV1-directed axonal tracing to verify NAc CRH+ fiber projections and established the identity of genetic reporter-labeled cells via validated antisera against native CRH. We quantified the relative contribution of CRH+ neurons to total NAc-directed projections. Combined retrograde and anterograde tracing identified the paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus, bed nucleus of stria terminalis, basolateral amygdala, and medial prefrontal cortex as principal sources of CRH+ projections to NAc. CRH+ NAc afferents were selectively enriched in NAc-projecting brain regions involved in diverse aspects of the sensing, processing and memory of emotionally salient events. These findings suggest multiple, complex potential roles for the molecularly-defined, CRH-dependent circuit in modulation of reward and motivation behaviors.

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