Genetic, pharmacological and lesion analyses reveal a selective role for corticohippocampal GLUN2B in a novel repeated swim stress paradigm.


Glutamate and N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) dysfunction is strongly implicated in the pathophysiology of mood and anxiety disorders. Treatment with NMDAR antagonists has antidepressant efficacy in treatment-resistant depressives. In preclinical rodent models, NMDAR antagonist administration reduces anxiety- and stress-related behaviors in concert with increases in prefrontal cortical (PFC) dendritic spinogenesis and synaptic proteins. While these effects have been attributed to actions at the NMDAR GluN2B subunit, the precise role of cortical GluN2B in mediating emotional behaviors and stress-responsivity is not fully understood. Here, we employed a novel mutant model in which the GluN2B subunit is postnatally deleted in principal neurons in the cortex and the dorsal CA1 subregion of the hippocampus. GluN2BKO mice were phenotyped on a battery of tests for anxiety-related (light/dark exploration, stress-induced hyperthermia) and antidepressant-sensitive (sucrose preference, novelty-induced hypophagia, single-trial forced swim) behaviors. A novel repeated inescapable forced swim paradigm (riFS) was developed to assess behavioral responses to repeated stress in the GluN2BKO mice. For comparison, non-mutant C57BL/6J mice were tested for single-trial forced swim behavior after systemic Ro 25-6981 treatment and for riFS behavior after lesions of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. riFS-induced alterations in corticolimbic GluN2B expression were also examined in C57BL/6J mice. We found that GluN2BKO mice reduced "despair-like" behavior in the riFS procedure, as compared to GluN2BFLOX controls. By contrast, GluN2BKO mice showed minimal alterations on anxiety-like or antidepressant-sensitive assays, including the single-trial forced swim test. In C57BL/6J mice, induction of "despair-like" responses in the riFS test was attenuated by vmPFC lesions, and was associated with changes in limbic GluN2B expression. Collectively, these data suggest that cortical GluN2B plays a major role in modulating adaptive responses to stress. Current findings provide further support for GluN2B as a key mechanism underlying stress responsivity, and a novel pharmacotherapeutic target for stress-related neuropsychiatric disorders.