Inflammatory bowel disease is associated with an increased risk of mental disorders and can be exacerbated by stress. In this study which was performed with male 10-week old C57Bl/6N mice, we used dextran sulfate sodium (DSS)-induced colitis to evaluate behavioral changes caused by intestinal inflammation, to assess the interaction between repeated psychological stress (water avoidance stress, WAS) and colitis in modifying behavior, and to analyze neurochemical correlates of this interaction. A 7-day treatment with DSS (2 % in drinking water) decreased locomotion and enhanced anxiety-like behavior in the open field test and reduced social interaction. Repeated exposure to WAS for 7 days had little influence on behavior but prevented the DSS-induced behavioral disturbances in the open field and social interaction tests. In contrast, repeated WAS did not modify colon length, colonic myeloperoxidase content and circulating proinflammatory cytokines, parameters used to assess colitis severity. DSS-induced colitis was associated with an increase in circulating neuropeptide Y (NPY), a rise in the hypothalamic expression of cyclooxygenase-2 mRNA and a decrease in the hippocampal expression of NPY mRNA, brain-derived neurotrophic factor mRNA and mineralocorticoid receptor mRNA. Repeated WAS significantly decreased the relative expression of corticotropin-releasing factor mRNA in the hippocampus. The effect of repeated WAS to blunt the DSS-evoked behavioral disturbances was associated with a rise of circulating corticosterone and an increase in the expression of hypothalamic NPY mRNA. These results show that experimental colitis leads to a particular range of behavioral alterations which can be prevented by repeated WAS, a model of predictable chronic stress, while the severity of colitis remains unabated. We conclude that the mechanisms underlying the resilience effect of repeated WAS involves hypothalamic NPY and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis
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