Toll-Like Receptor 4 Deficiency Causes Reduced Exploratory Behavior in Mice Under Approach-Avoidance Conflict
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Abnormal approach-avoidance behavior has been linked to deficits in the mesolimbic dopamine (DA) system of the brain. Recently, increasing evidence has indicated that toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4), an important pattern-recognition receptor in the innate immune system, can be directly activated by substances of abuse, resulting in an increase of the extracellular DA level in the nucleus accumbens. We thus hypothesized that TLR4-dependent signaling might regulate approach-avoidance behavior. To test this hypothesis, we compared the novelty-seeking and social interaction behaviors of TLR4-deficient (TLR4 −/− ) and wild-type (WT) mice in an approach-avoidance conflict situation in which the positive motivation to explore a novel object or interact with an unfamiliar mouse was counteracted by the negative motivation to hide in exposed, large spaces. We found that TLR4 −/− mice exhibited reduced novelty-seeking and social interaction in the large open spaces. In less stressful test apparatuses similar in size to the mouse cage, however, TLR4 −/− mice performed normally in both novelty-seeking and social interaction tests. The reduced exploratory behaviors under approach-avoidance conflict were not due to a high anxiety level or an enhanced fear response in the TLR4 −/− mice, as these mice showed normal anxiety and fear responses in the open field and passive avoidance tests, respectively. Importantly, the novelty-seeking behavior in the large open field induced a higher level of c-Fos activation in the nucleus accumbens shell (NAcSh) in TLR4 −/− mice than in WT mice. Partially inactivating the NAcSh via infusion of GABA receptor agonists restored the novelty-seeking behavior of TLR4 −/− mice. These data suggested that TLR4 is crucial for positive motivational behavior under approach-avoidance conflict. TLR4-dependent activation of neurons in the NAcSh may contribute to this phenomenon.
KeywordsToll-like receptor 4 Novelty-seeking Social interaction Approach-avoidance conflict Nucleus accumbens shell
This work was supported by the National Basic Research Development Program (973 Program) of China (2013CB530902), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (91132712, 81571125, 81221003 and 81300979), the Natural Science Foundation of Zhejiang Province, China (LR12C09001 and Q13C090002), and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities of China (2014FZA7008). Chunlu Li was partly supported by a Chinese Postdoctoral Science Foundation grant (2015M570501).
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