Estrogen promotes stress sensitivity in a prefrontal cortex-amygdala pathway

Rebecca M. Shansky, Carine Hamo, Patrick R. Hof, Wendy Lou, Bruce S. McEwen, John H. Morrison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

149 Scopus citations


We have recently reported in male rats that medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) neurons that project to the basolateral nucleus of the amygdala (BLA) are resilient to stress-induced dendritic remodeling. The present study investigated whether this also occurs in female rats. This pathway was identified using the retrograde tracer Fast Blue injected into the BLA of ovariectomized female rats with estrogen replacement (OVX + E) and without (OVX + veh). Animals were exposed for 10 days either to 2-h immobilization stress or to home cage rest, after which layer III mPFC neurons that were either retrogradely labeled by Fast Blue or unlabeled were filled with Lucifer Yellow and analyzed for apical dendritic length and spine density. No dendritic remodeling occurred in unlabeled neurons from OVX + veh or OVX + E animals. In BLA-projecting neurons, however, stress had no effect on length in OVX + veh animals, but stressed OVX + E females showed greater dendritic length than controls at intermediate branches. Stress also caused an increase in spine density in all neurons in OVX + veh animals and a spine density increase in BLA-projecting neurons in OVX + E females. Estrogen also increased spine density on BLA-projecting neurons in unstressed animals. These data demonstrate both independent effects of estrogen on pyramidal cell morphology and effects that are interactive with stress, with the BLA-projecting neurons being sensitive to both kinds of effects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2560-2567
Number of pages8
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2010


  • connectivity
  • dendritic arborization
  • medial prefrontal cortex
  • neural plasticity
  • sex difference


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