ABSTRACT: It has long been hypothesized that morphological and numerical alterations in dendritic spines underlie long-term structural encoding of experiences. Here we investigate the efficacy of aversive experience in the form of acute immobilization stress (AIS) and chronic immobilization stress (CIS) in modulating spine density in the basolateral amygdala (BLA) of male rats. We find that CIS elicits a robust increase in spine density across primary and secondary branches of BLA spiny neurons. We observed this CIS-induced spinogenesis in the BLA 1 d after the termination of CIS. In contrast, AIS fails to affect spine density or dendritic arborization when measured 1 d later. Strikingly, the same AIS causes a gradual increase in spine density 10 d later but without any effect on dendritic arbors. Thus, by modulating the duration of immobilization stress, it is possible to induce the formation of new spines without remodeling dendrites. However, unlike CIS-induced spine formation, the gradual increase in spine density 10 d after a single exposure to AIS is localized on primary dendrites. Finally, this delayed induction of BLA spinogenesis is paralleled by a gradual development of anxiety-like behavior on the elevated plus-maze 10 d after AIS. These findings demonstrate that stressful experiences can lead to the formation of new dendritic spines in the BLA, which is believed to be a locus of storage for fear memories. Our results also suggest that stress may facilitate symptoms of chronic anxiety disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder by enhancing synaptic connectivity in the BLA.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 07/2005; 102(26):9371-6. · 9.68 Impact Factor