Exposure to an open-field arena increases c-Fos expression in a subpopulation of neurons in the dorsal raphe nucleus, including neurons projecting to the basolateral amygdaloid complex
Serotonergic systems in the dorsal raphe nucleus are thought to play an important role in the regulation of anxiety states. To investigate responses of neurons in the dorsal raphe nucleus to a mild anxiety-related stimulus, we exposed rats to an open-field, under low-light or high-light conditions. Treatment effects on c-Fos expression in serotonergic and non-serotonergic cells in the midbrain raphe nuclei were determined 2 h following open-field exposure or home cage control (CO) conditions. Rats tested under both light conditions responded with increases in c-Fos expression in serotonergic neurons within subdivisions of the midbrain raphe nuclei compared with CO rats. However, the total numbers of serotonergic neurons involved were small suggesting that exposure to the open-field may affect a subpopulation of serotonergic neurons. To determine if exposure to the open-field activates a subset of neurons in the midbrain raphe complex that projects to forebrain circuits regulating anxiety states, we used cholera toxin B subunit (CTb) as a retrograde tracer to identify neurons projecting to the basolateral amygdaloid complex (BL) in combination with c-Fos immunostaining to identify cells that responded to open-field exposure. Rats received a unilateral injection of CTb into the BL. Seven to 11 days following CTb injection rats were either, 1) exposed to an open-field in low-light conditions, 2) briefly handled or 3) left undisturbed in home cages. Dual immunostaining for c-Fos and CTb revealed an increase in the percentage of c-Fos-immunoreactive BL-projecting neurons in open-field-exposed rats compared with handled and control rats. Dual immunostaining for tryptophan hydroxylase and CTb revealed that a majority (65%) of BL-projecting neurons were serotonergic, leaving open the possibility that activated neurons were serotonergic, non-serotonergic, or both. These data are consistent with the hypothesis that exposure to anxiogenic stimuli activates a subset of neurons in the midbrain raphe complex projecting to amygdala anxiety circuits.