5-HTT Deficiency Affects Neuroplasticity and Increases Stress Sensitivity Resulting in Altered Spatial Learning Performance in the Morris Water Maze but Not in the Barnes Maze

Margherita M. Karabeg, Sandra Grauthoff, Sina Y. Kollert, Magdalena Weidner, Rebecca S. Heiming, Friederike Jansen, Sandy Popp, Sylvia Kaiser, Klaus-Peter Lesch, Norbert Sachser, Angelika G. Schmitt*, Lars Lewejohann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The purpose of this study was to evaluate whether spatial hippocampus-dependent learning is affected by the serotonergic system and stress. Therefore, 5-HTT knockout (-/-), heterozygous (+/-) and wildtype (+/+) mice were subjected to the Barnes maze (BM) and the Morris water maze (WM), the latter being discussed as more aversive. Additionally, immediate early gene (IEG) expression, hippocampal adult neurogenesis (aN), and blood plasma corticosterone were analyzed. While the performance of 5-HTT-/- mice in the BM was undistinguishable from both other genotypes, they performed worse in the WM. However, in the course of the repeated WM trials 5-HTT-/- mice advanced to wildtype level. The experience of a single trial of either the WM or the BM resulted in increased plasma corticosterone levels in all genotypes. After several trials 5-HTT-/- mice exhibited higher corticosterone concentrations compared with both other genotypes in both tests. Corticosterone levels were highest in 5-HTT-/- mice tested in the WM indicating greater aversiveness of the WM and a greater stress sensitivity of 5-HTT deficient mice. Quantitative immunohistochemistry in the hippocampus revealed increased cell counts positive for the IEG products cFos and Arc as well as for proliferation marker Ki67 and immature neuron marker NeuroD in 5-HTT-/- mice compared to 5-HTT+/+ mice, irrespective of the test. Most differences were found in the suprapyramidal blade of the dentate gyrus of the septal hippocampus. Ki67-immunohistochemistry revealed a genotype x environment interaction with 5-HTT genotype differences in na?ve controls and WM experience exclusively yielding more Ki67-positive cells in 5-HTT+/+ mice. Moreover, in 5-HTT-/- mice we demonstrate that learning performance correlates with the extent of aN. Overall, higher baseline IEG expression and increased an in the hippocampus of 5-HTT-/- mice together with increased stress sensitivity may constitute the neurobiological correlate of raised alertness, possibly impeding optimal learning performance in the more stressful WM.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere78238
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 22 Oct 2013

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