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Periaqueductal gray inputs to the paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus: Columnar topography and glucocorticoid (in)sensitivity

Boorman, DC;Brown, R;Keay, KA;

The ability to cope with a novel acute stressor in the context of ongoing chronic stress is of critical adaptive value. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis contributes to the integrated physiological and behavioural responses to stressors. Under conditions of chronic stress, the posterior portion of the paraventricular thalamic nucleus (pPVT) mediates the ‘habituation’ of HPA-axis responses, and also facilitates HPA-axis reactivation to novel acute stressors amidst this habituation. Since pPVT neurons are sensitive to the inhibitory effects of circulating glucocorticoids, a glucocorticoid-insensitive neural pathway to the pPVT is likely essential for this reactivation process. The pPVT receives substantial inputs from neurons of the periaqueductal gray (PAG) region, which is organised into longitudinal columns critical for processing acute and/or chronic stressors. We investigated the columnar organisation of PAG?pPVT projections and for the first time determined their glucocorticoid sensitivity. Retrograde tracer injections were made into different rostro-caudal regions of the pPVT, and their PAG columnar inputs compared. Glucocorticoid receptor immunoreactivity (GR-ir) was quantified in these projection neurons. We found that the dorsolateral PAG projected most strongly to rostral pPVT and the ventrolateral PAG most strongly to the caudal pPVT. Despite abundant GR-ir in the PAG, we report a striking absence of GR-ir in PAG?pPVT neurons. Our data suggests that these pathways, which are insensitive to the direct actions of circulating glucocorticoids, likely play an important role in both the habituation of HPA-axis to chronic stressors and its facilitation to acute stressors in chronically stressed rats. Crown