Inability to suppress the stress-induced activation of the HPA axis during the peripartum period engenders deficits in postpartum behaviors in mice
LC Melón, etc
The stress-induced activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is normally suppressed during pregnancy. Dysregulation of the HPA axis has been proposed to play a role in postpartum depression. However, direct investigation into the relationship between the HPA axis and postpartum depression has been hindered by the lack of useful animal models. Building on our discovery of a role for the K+/Cl-co-transporter, KCC2, in the GABAergic regulation of CRH neurons in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus (PVN), critical for mounting the body’s physiological response to stress, we assessed the role of KCC2 in the regulation of the HPA axis during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Here we demonstrate that the normal suppression of the stress-induced activation of the HPA axis during the peripartum period involves maintenance of KCC2 in the PVN. Mice lacking KCC2 specifically in corticosterone-releasing hormone (CRH) neurons, which govern the activity of the HPA axis (KCC2/Crh mice), exhibit dysregulation of the HPA axis and abnormal postpartum behaviors. Loss of KCC2 specifically in CRH neurons in the PVN is sufficient to reproduce the depression-like phenotype and deficits in maternal behaviors during the postpartum period. Similarly, chemogenetic activation of CRH neurons in the PVN is sufficient to induce abnormal postpartum behaviors and chemogenetic silencing of CRH neurons in the PVN can ameliorate abnormal postpartum behaviors observed in KCC2/Crh mice. This study demonstrates that dysregulation of the HPA axis is sufficient to induce abnormal postpartum behaviors and deficits in maternal behaviors in mice, providing empirical support for a role of HPA axis dysfunction in the pathophysiology of postpartum depression.