Behavioral phenotype, intestinal microbiome, and brain neuronal activity of male serotonin transporter knockout mice

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Abstract

The serotonin transporter (5-HTT) plays a critical role in the regulation of serotonin neurotransmission. Mice genetically deficient in 5-HTT expression have been used to study the physiological functions of 5-HTT in the brain and have been proposed as a potential animal model for neuropsychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders. Recent studies have provided evidence for a link between the gut-brain axis and mood disorders. However, the effects of 5-HTT deficiency on gut microbiota, brain function, and behavior remain to be fully characterized. Here we investigated the effects of 5-HTT deficiency on different types of behavior, the gut microbiome, and brain c-Fos expression as a marker of neuronal activation in response to the forced swim test for assessing depression-related behavior in male 5-HTT knockout mice. Behavioral analysis using a battery of 16 different tests showed that 5-HTT−/− mice exhibited markedly reduced locomotor activity, decreased pain sensitivity, reduced motor function, increased anxiety-like and depression-related behavior, altered social behavior in novel and familiar environments, normal working memory, enhanced spatial reference memory, and impaired fear memory compared to 5-HTT+/+ mice. 5-HTT+/− mice showed slightly reduced locomotor activity and impaired social behavior compared to 5-HTT+/+ mice. Analysis of 16S rRNA gene amplicons showed that 5-HTT−/− mice had altered gut microbiota abundances, such as a decrease in Allobaculum, Bifidobacterium, Clostridium sensu stricto, and Turicibacter, compared to 5-HTT+/+ mice. This study also showed that after exposure to the forced swim test, the number of c-Fos-positive cells was higher in the paraventricular thalamus and lateral hypothalamus and was lower in the prefrontal cortical regions, nucleus accumbens shell, dorsolateral septal nucleus, hippocampal regions, and ventromedial hypothalamus in 5-HTT−/− mice than in 5-HTT+/+ mice. These phenotypes of 5-HTT−/− mice partially recapitulate clinical observations in humans with major depressive disorder. The present findings indicate that 5-HTT-deficient mice serve as a good and valid animal model to study anxiety and depression with altered gut microbial composition and abnormal neuronal activity in the brain, highlighting the importance of 5-HTT in brain function and the mechanisms underlying the regulation of anxiety and depression.

Original languageEnglish
Article number32
JournalMolecular brain
Volume16
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 12-2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

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