Reduced corticotropin-releasing factor and enhanced vasopressin gene expression in brains of mice with autoimmunity-induced behavioral dysfunction
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The spontaneous development of autoimmune disease in MRL-lpr mice induces behavioral and endocrine changes that resemble effects of chronic stressors. To further examine the correspondence between autoimmune disease and chronic stress, we asked whether the brains of autoimmune mice show a shift in the corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) to vasopressin (AVP) ratio. Using in situ hybridization histochemistry with 35S-labelled mouse riboprobes, the levels of mRNA transcripts encoding CRF and AVP were compared between autoimmune MRL-lpr and control MRL +/+ brains. CRF transcript levels were lower in the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus and in the central nucleus of the amygdala in MRL-lpr mice. AVP transcript levels were higher in the paraventricular and the supraoptic nuclei in MRL-lpr mice compared to controls. CRF mRNA levels were inversely related to performance in stress-sensitive tasks and to measures of autoimmunity. As found previously for behavioral performance, immunosuppressive treatment with cyclophosphamide abolished the group difference in neuropeptide gene expression. These results indicate that an autoimmune disease process is necessary for the shift in the brain CRF:AVP ratio. Furthermore, they support the parallel between chronic stress and chronic autoimmunity/inflammation, and suggest common central mechanisms relevant to endocrine function and behavior.
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