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The corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) system integrates the stress response and is associated with stress-related psychopathology. Previous reports have identified interactions between childhood trauma and sequence variation in the CRH receptor 1 gene (CRHR1) that increase risk for affective disorders. However, the underlying mechanisms that connect variation in CRHR1 to psychopathology are unknown. To explore potential mechanisms, we used a validated rhesus macaque model to investigate association between genetic variation in CRHR1, anxious temperament (AT) and brain metabolic activity. In young rhesus monkeys, AT is analogous to the childhood risk phenotype that predicts the development of human anxiety and depressive disorders. Regional brain metabolism was assessed with (18)F-labeled fluoro-2-deoxyglucose (FDG) positron emission tomography in 236 young, normally reared macaques that were also characterized for AT. We show that single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) affecting exon 6 of CRHR1 influence both AT and metabolic activity in the anterior hippocampus and amygdala, components of the neural circuit underlying AT. We also find evidence for association between SNPs in CRHR1 and metabolism in the intraparietal sulcus and precuneus. These translational data suggest that genetic variation in CRHR1 affects the risk for affective disorders by influencing the function of the neural circuit underlying AT and that differences in gene expression or the protein sequence involving exon 6 may be important. These results suggest that variation in CRHR1 may influence brain function before any childhood adversity and may be a diathesis for the interaction between CRHR1 genotypes and childhood trauma reported to affect human psychopathology.
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The length polymorphism of the serotonin (5-HT) transporter gene promoter region has been implicated in altered 5-HT function and, in turn, neuropsychiatric illnesses, such as anxiety and depression. The nonhuman primate has been used as a model to study anxiety-related mechanisms in humans based upon similarities in behavior and the presence of a similar 5-HT transporter gene polymorphism. Stressful and threatening contexts in the nonhuman primate model have revealed 5-HT transporter genotype dependent differences in regional glucose metabolism. Using the rhesus monkey, we examined the extent to which serotonin transporter genotype is associated with 5-HT transporter binding in brain regions implicated in emotion-related pathology. METHODS: Genotype data and high resolution PET scans were acquired in 29 rhesus (Macaca mulatta) monkeys. [C-11]DASB dynamic PET scans were acquired for 90 min in the anesthetized animals and images of distribution volume ratio (DVR) were created to serve as a metric of 5-HT transporter binding for group comparison based on a reference region method of analysis. Regional and voxelwise statistical analysis were performed with corrections for anatomical differences in gray matter probability, sex, age and radioligand mass. RESULTS: There were no significant differences when comparing l/l homozygotes with s-carriers in the regions of the brain implicated in anxiety and mood related illnesses (amygdala, striatum, thalamus, raphe nuclei, temporal and prefrontal cortex). There was a significant sex difference in 5-HT transporter binding in all regions with females having 18%-28% higher DVR than males. CONCLUSIONS: Because these findings are consistent with similar genotype findings in humans, this further strengthens the use of the rhesus model for studying anxiety-related neuropathologies.
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A variant allele in the promoter region of the serotonin transporter gene, SLC6A4, the s allele, is associated with increased vulnerability to develop anxiety-related traits and depression. Furthermore, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies reveal that s carriers have increased amygdala reactivity in response to aversive stimuli, which is thought to be an intermediate phenotype mediating the influences of the s allele on emotionality. We used high-resolution microPET [18F]fluoro-2-deoxy-D-glucose (FDG) scanning to assess regional brain metabolic activity in rhesus monkeys to further explore s allele-related intermediate phenotypes. Rhesus monkeys provide an excellent model to understand mechanisms underlying human anxiety, and FDG microPET allows for the assessment of brain activity associated with naturalistic environments outside the scanner. During FDG uptake, monkeys were exposed to different ethologically relevant stressful situations (relocation and threat) as well as to the less stressful familiar environment of their home cage. The s carriers displayed increased orbitofrontal cortex activity in response to both relocation and threat. However, during relocation they displayed increased amygdala reactivity and in response to threat they displayed increased reactivity of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis. No increase in the activity of any of these regions occurred when the animals were administered FDG in their home cages. These findings demonstrate context-dependent intermediate phenotypes in s carriers that provide a framework for understanding the mechanisms underlying the vulnerabilities of s-allele carriers exposed to different types of stressors.
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