Midlife stress alters memory and mood-related behaviors in old age: role of locally activated glucocorticoids

Nicola Wheelan, Christopher J. Kenyon, Anjanette P. Harris, Carolynn Cairns, Emad Al-Dujaili, Jonathan R. Seckl, Joyce L.W. Yau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Chronic exposure to stress during midlife associates with subsequent age-related cognitive decline and may increase the vulnerability to develop psychiatric conditions. Increased hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activity has been implicated in pathogenesis though any causative role for glucocorticoids is unestablished. This study investigated the contribution of local glucocorticoid regeneration by the intracellular enzyme 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (11β-HSD1), in persisting midlife stress-induced
behavioural effects in mice. Middle-aged (10 months old) 11β-HSD1-deficient mice and wildtype congenic controls were randomly assigned to 28 days of chronic unpredictable stress or left undisturbed (non-stressed). All mice underwent behavioural testing at the end of the stress/non-stress period and again 6-7 months later. Chronic stress impaired spatial memory
in middle-aged wild-type mice. The effects, involving a wide spectrum of behavioural modalities, persisted for 6-7 months after cessation of stress into early senescence. Enduring effects after midlife stress included impaired spatial memory, enhanced contextual fear memory, impaired fear extinction, heightened anxiety, depressive-like behaviour, as well as reduced hippocampal glucocorticoid receptor mRNA expression. In contrast, 11β-HSD1 deficient mice resisted both immediate and enduring effects of chronic stress, despite similar
stress-induced increases in systemic glucocorticoid activity during midlife stress. In conclusion, chronic stress in midlife exerts persisting effects leading to cognitive and affective dysfunction in old age via mechanisms that depend, at least in part, on brain glucocorticoids generated locally by 11β-HSD1. This finding supports selective 11β-HSD1inhibition as a novel therapeutic target to ameliorate the long-term consequences of stress related psychiatric disorders in midlife.
Original languageEnglish
Early online date23 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018


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