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Stress Adaptation Upregulates Oxytocin within Hypothalamo-Vagal Neurocircuits

Jiang, Y;Coleman, FH;Kopenhaver Doheny, K;Travagli, RA;

Stress plays a pivotal role in the development and/or exacerbation of functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorders. The paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus (PVN) contains neurons that are part of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis as well as preautonomic neurons innervating, among other areas, gastric-projecting preganglionic neurons of the dorsal vagal complex (DVC). The aim of the present study was to test the hypothesis that stress adaptation upregulates oxytocin (OXT) within PVN-brainstem vagal neurocircuitry. The retrograde tracer cholera toxin B (CTB) was injected into the DVC of rats which, after post-surgical recovery, were pair-housed and exposed to either homo- or heterotypic stress for five consecutive days. Fecal pellets were counted at the end of each stress load. Two hours after the last stressor, the whole brain was excised. Brainstem and hypothalamic nuclei were analyzed immunohistochemically for the presence of both OXT-immunopositive cells in identified preautonomic PVN neurons as well as OXT fibers in the DVC. Rats exposed to chronic homotypic, but not chronic heterotypic stress, had a significant increase in both number of CTB+ OXT co-localized neurons in the PVN as well as density of OXT-positive fibers in the DVC compared to control rats. These data suggest that preautonomic OXT PVN neurons and their projections to the DVC increase following adaptation to stress, and suggest that the possible up-regulation of OXT within PVN-brainstem vagal neurocircuitry may play a role in the adaptation of GI responses to stress. Copyright 2018 IBRO. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.