The comparative effects of environmental enrichment with exercise and serotonin transporter blockade on serotonergic neurons in the dorsal raphe nucleus
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We have previously reported that inhibition of the serotonin transporter (SERT) by selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) fluoxetine significantly reduces the number of tryptophan hydroxylase (TPH)-positive cells in the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN). We have been interested in exploring whether this SSRI-induced change in TPH might be modified by housing in an enriched environment. Like SSRI antidepressants, environmental enrichment (EE) and physical exercise have been found to have efficacy in the prevention and alleviation of depression. We postulated that EE with exercise and SERT inhibition would similarly affect TPH regulation and that EE with exercise might modify the effect of fluoxetine on TPH. Three week old male Sprague-Dawley rats were housed in either a standard cage (SE) or an enriched environment (EE). SE animals were singly housed with no access to enrichment objects. EE animals were group housed and were provided with various enrichment objects (e.g. running wheel) that were changed and rearranged regularly. Nine weeks after the experiment began, the rats were randomly assigned to one of four treatment groups: (1) SE control; (2) SE fluoxetine; (3) EE control; or (4) EE fluoxetine. Fluoxetine (5 mg/kg/day) was placed in the drinking water. Sections of DRN were processed for TPH immunohistochemistry. The number of TPH-positive cells was determined by blinded, manual counting. Results were analyzed by analysis of variance (ANOVA) followed by post-hoc Tukey tests. Significance was set at P < 0.05. For animals housed in a standard environment, fluoxetine induced a significant 29% reduction in the number of TPH-immunoreactive cells in the DRN. A similar reduction in TPH immunoreactivity was observed in animals that were housed in an enriched environment but not exposed to fluoxetine (39%). The number of TPH-positive cells in the DRN for animals housed in an enriched environment and exposed to fluoxetine was not significantly different than animals housed in an enriched environment and not exposed to fluoxetine. The reduction of TPH immunoreactivity in the DRN by EE with exercise suggests that a modified housing environment and voluntary exercise affects regulation of TPH, possibly via a mechanism similar to that of SERT inhibitors. This downregulation of serotonin biosynthesis by fluoxetine and EE with exercise may ultimately play a role in the therapeutic action of both interventions.
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