Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activity and anxiety-like behavior during aging: A test of the glucocorticoid cascade hypothesis in amyloidogenic APPswe/PS1dE9 mice

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Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a progressive, dementing, whole-body disorder that presents with decline in cognitive, behavioral, and emotional functions, as well as endocrine dysregulation. The etiology of AD is not fully understood but stress- and anxiety-related hormones may play a role in its development and trajectory. The glucocorticoid cascade hypothesis posits that levels of glucocorticoids increase with age, leading to dysregulated negative feedback, further elevated glucocorticoids, and resulting neuropathology. We examined the impact of age (from 2 to 10 months) and stressor exposure (predator odor) on hormone levels (corticosterone and ghrelin), anxiety-like behavior (open field and light dark tests), and memory-related behavior (novel object recognition; NOR), and whether these various measures correlated with neuropathology (hippocampus and cortex amyloid beta, Aβ) in male and female APPswe/PS1dE9 transgenic and non-transgenic mice. Additionally, we performed exploratory analyses to probe if the open field and light dark test as commonly used tasks to assess anxiety levels were correlated. Consistent with the glucocorticoid cascade hypothesis, baseline corticosterone increased with age. Predator odor exposure elevated corticosterone at each age, but in contrast to the glucocorticoid cascade hypothesis, the magnitude of stressor-induced elevations in corticosterone levels did not increase with age. Overall, transgenic mice had higher post-stressor, but not baseline, corticosterone than non-transgenic mice, and across both genotypes, females consistently had higher (baseline and post-stressor) corticosterone than males. Behavior in the open field test primarily showed decreased locomotion with age, and this was pronounced in transgenic females. Anxiety-like behaviors in the light dark test were exacerbated following predator odor, and female transgenic mice were the most impacted. Compared to transgenic males, transgenic females had higher Aβ concentrations and showed more anxiety-like behavior. Performance on the NOR did not differ significantly between genotypes. Lastly, we did not find robust, statistically significant correlations among corticosterone, ghrelin, recognition memory, anxiety-like behaviors, or Aβ, suggesting outcomes are not strongly related on the individual level. Our data suggest that despite Aβ accumulation in the hippocampus and cortex, male and female APPswePS1dE9 transgenic mice do not differ robustly from their non-transgenic littermates in physiological, endocrine, and behavioral measures at the range of ages studied here.

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General and comparative endocrinology

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