Stress vulnerability and pathogenic mechanisms in stress-related disorders are strongly associated with the functions of serotonin transporter (SERT). SERT phosphorylation induces a reduction of the serotonin (5-HT, 5-hydroxytryptamine) transport properties, its phosphorylation regulated by protein kinase C (PKC). However, the functional relationship between regulated SERT activity by PKC and stress vulnerability remains unclear. Here, we investigated whether the functional regulation of SERT by PKC was involved in stress vulnerability using mice exposed to twice-swim stress that exhibited the impairment of social behaviors. The mild-swim stress (6 min) given just before the social interaction test did not affect the social behaviors of mice. However, mice exposed to strong-swim stress (15 min) became vulnerable to the mild-swim stress, and subsequent social behaviors were impaired. Chelerythrine, a PKC inhibitor, exacerbated decreased sociality in mice exposed to acute mild-swim stress. Phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA), a PKC activator, ameliorated the impairment of social behaviors in mice exposed to twice-swim stress. Phosphorylated PKCβI or SERT and 5-HT levels were decreased in the prefrontal cortex of twice-stressed mice. These decreases were attenuated by PMA. Our findings demonstrate that mice exposed to twice-swim stress developed stress vulnerability, which may be involved in the regulation of SERT phosphorylation and 5-HT levels accompanying PKCβI activity.
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