Chronic excess of corticosterone increases serotonergic fibre degeneration in aged rats

C. Nyakas, J. Mulder, K. Felszeghy, J. N. Keijser, R. Mehra, P. G.M. Luiten

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Evidence is presented for the potentiating role of corticosterone on axonal degeneration of serotonergic neurones during ageing. Aged rats, 24 months old, were implanted subcutaneously with 2 × 100 mg pellets of corticosterone. Serotonergic and cholinergic (ChAT- and NADPHd-positive) fibre degenerations in the anteroventral thalamic nucleus (AVT) were measured 2 months after corticosterone implantation. Numbers of immunoreactive serotonergic raphe and mesolimbic cholinergic neurones were also quantified. Basal plasma corticosterone and adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) concentrations were assayed at 2, 4, 6, and 8 weeks after implantation in the plasma and at 1, 2, 4 and 6 weeks in urine. The degree of serotonergic fibre aberrations in the AVT increased significantly after corticosterone exposure, while that of ChAT-positive and NADPHd-stained axon aberrations showed a modest but nonsignificant increase. A positive correlation between the magnitudes of serotonergic and cholinergic fibre aberrations appeared in the AVT, but only in the corticosterone-treated rats. The number of serotonin immunopositive neurones in the raphe nuclei after corticosterone decreased marginally, while that of mesopontine ChAT-positive neurones was not influenced. Measurements of basal plasma corticosterone and ACTH, as well as urine corticosterone, revealed that the steroid implantation increased the plasma corticosterone level for at least 4 weeks and decreased ACTH level for at least 6 weeks. By the week 8, the pituitary-adrenal function was apparently restored. However, at sacrifice, both the weight of adrenal glands and that of thymus remained reduced, indicating the long-lasting effects of corticosterone on target tissues. It is concluded that the raphe serotonergic neurones and their projecting fibres are sensitive to corticosterone excess in aged rats and become more vulnerable to degeneration processes than under normal ageing conditions. Cholinergic neurones of brainstem origin, which also express massive NADPHd activity, are more resistant against corticosterone, but their axon degeneration correlates to serotonergic fibre degeneration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)498-507
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neuroendocrinology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 1 2003



  • Ageing
  • Corticosterone excess
  • Degeneration
  • Serotonergic and cholinergic fibres

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

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