Sex-Dependent Modulation of Anxiety and Fear by 5-HT Receptors in the Bed Nucleus of the Stria Terminalis.


Serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine; 5-HT) coordinates behavioral responses to stress through a variety of presynaptic and postsynaptic receptors distributed across functionally diverse neuronal networks in the central nervous system. Efferent 5-HT projections from the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN) to the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) are generally thought to enhance anxiety and aversive learning by activating 5-HT receptor (5-HTR) signaling in the BNST, although an opposing role for postsynaptic 5-HT receptors has recently been suggested. In the present study, we sought to delineate a role for postsynaptic 5-HT receptors in the BNST in aversive behaviors using a conditional knockdown of the 5-HT receptor. Both males and females were tested to dissect out sex-specific effects. We found that male mice have significantly reduced fear memory recall relative to female mice and inactivation of 5-HT receptor in the BNST increases contextual fear conditioning in male mice so that they resemble the females. This coincided with an increase in neuronal excitability in males, suggesting that 5-HT receptor deletion may enhance contextual fear recall by disinhibiting fear memory circuits in the BNST. Interestingly, 5-HT receptor knockdown did not significantly alter anxiety-like behavior in male or female mice, which is in agreement with previous findings that anxiety and fear are modulated by dissociable circuits in the BNST. Overall, these results suggest that BNST 5-HT receptors do not significantly alter behavior under basal conditions, but can act as a molecular brake that buffer against excessive activation of aversive circuits in more threatening contexts.