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Mathias V Schmidt, Claudia Liebl, Vera Sterlemann, Karin Ganea, Jakob Hartmann, Daniela Harbich, Stephanie Alam, and Marianne B Müller

The function of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis of the neonatal mouse or rat is characterized by a period of quiescence, where mild stimuli are unable to elicit a pronounced increase in circulating corticosterone. A disruption of this period by maternal separation has been shown to result in a variety of long-term consequences, including neuroendocrine and behavioral disturbances. We have recently shown that peripheral metabolic markers like glucose or ghrelin are altered by maternal separation and that these changes precede the effects on corticosterone secretion. In the current study, we investigated whether the initial activation of the HPA axis is mediated via neuropeptide Y (NPY). To test this hypothesis, we studied the effects of an 8 h maternal separation in NPY-deficient mice. In addition, we compared the effect of the genotype with the previously described pharmacological effect of a ghrelin receptor antagonist. We could show that the peripheral response to maternal separation is decreased in NPY heterozygous and homozygous animals. In addition, maternal separation effects on corticotropin releasing hormone and glucocorticoid receptor expression in the brain were prevented in NPY-deficient pups. These effects were similar to a pharmacological ghrelin receptor blockade. We conclude that metabolic signals via an NPY-mediated pathway play a crucial role in activating the stress system of the neonatal mouse.

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Tanja Jene, Inigo Ruiz de Azua, Annika Hasch, Jennifer Klüpfel, Julia Deuster, Mirjam Maas, Cora H Nijboer, Beat Lutz, Marianne B Müller, and Michael A van der Kooij

Stress has a major impact on the modulation of metabolism, as previously evidenced by hyperglycemia following chronic social defeat (CSD) stress in mice. Although CSD-triggered metabolic dysregulation might predispose to pre-diabetic conditions, insulin sensitivity remained intact, and obesity did not develop, when animals were fed with a standard diet (SD). Here, we investigated whether a nutritional challenge, a high-fat diet (HFD), aggravates the metabolic phenotype and whether there are particularly sensitive time windows for the negative consequences of HFD exposure. Chronically stressed male mice and controls (CTRL) were kept under (i) SD-conditions, (ii) with HFD commencing post-CSD, or (iii) provided with HFD lasting throughout and after CSD. Under SD conditions, stress increased glucose levels early post-CSD. Both HFD regimens increased glucose levels in non-stressed mice but not in stressed mice. Nonetheless, when HFD was provided after CSD, stressed mice did not differ from controls in long-term body weight gain, fat tissue mass and plasma insulin, and leptin levels. In contrast, when HFD was continuously available, stressed mice displayed reduced body weight gain, lowered plasma levels of insulin and leptin, and reduced white adipose tissue weights as compared to their HFD-treated non-stressed controls. Interestingly, stress-induced adrenal hyperplasia and hypercortisolemia were observed in mice treated with SD and with HFD after CSD but not in stressed mice exposed to a continuous HFD treatment. The present work demonstrates that CSD can reduce HFD-induced metabolic dysregulation. Hence, HFD during stress may act beneficially, as comfort food, by decreasing stress-induced metabolic demands.