Differential effects of exposure to low-light or high-light open-field on anxiety-related behaviors: Relationship to c-Fos expression in serotonergic and non-serotonergic neurons in the dorsal raphe nucleus
Serotonergic systems arising from the mid-rostrocaudal and caudal dorsal raphe nucleus (DR) have been implicated in the facilitation of anxiety-related behavioral responses to anxiogenic drugs or aversive stimuli. In this study we attempted to determine a threshold to engage serotonergic neurons in the DR following exposure to aversive conditions in an anxiety-related behavioral test. We manipulated the intensity of anxiogenic stimuli in studies of male Wistar rats by leaving them undisturbed (CO), briefly handling them (HA), or exposing them to an open-field arena for 15-min under low-light (LL: 8-13 lx) or high-light (HL: 400-500 lx) conditions. Rats exposed to HL conditions responded with reduced locomotor activity, reduced time spent exploring the center of the arena, a lower frequency of rearing and grooming, and an increased frequency of facing the corner of the arena compared to LL rats. Rats exposed to HL conditions had small but significant increases in c-Fos expression within serotonergic neurons in subdivisions of the rostral DR. Exposure to HL conditions did not alter c-Fos responses in serotonergic neurons in any other DR subdivision. In contrast, rats exposed to the open-field arena had increased c-Fos expression in non-serotonergic cells throughout the DR compared to CO rats, and this effect was particularly apparent in the dorsolateral part of the DR. We conclude that exposure to HL conditions, compared to LL conditions, increased anxiety-related behavioral responses in an open-field arena but this stimulus was at or below the threshold required to increase c-Fos expression in serotonergic neurons.