Brain Structure and Function

, Volume 223, Issue 5, pp 2213–2227 | Cite as

Brain c-fos expression patterns induced by emotional stressors differing in nature and intensity

  • Jesús Úbeda-Contreras
  • Ignacio Marín-Blasco
  • Roser Nadal
  • Antonio Armario
Original Article


Regardless of its particular nature, emotional stressors appear to elicit a widespread and roughly similar brain activation pattern as evaluated by c-fos expression. However, their behavioral and physiological consequences may strongly differ. Here we addressed in adult male rats the contribution of the intensity and the particular nature of stressors by comparing, in a set of brain areas, the number of c-fos expressing neurons in response to open-field, cat odor or immobilization on boards (IMO). These are qualitatively different stressors that are known to differ in terms of intensity, as evaluated by biological markers. In the present study, plasma levels of the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) demonstrated that intensity increases in the following order: open-field, cat odor and IMO. Four different c-fos activation patterns emerged among all areas studied: (i) positive relationship with intensity (posterior-dorsal medial amygdala, dorsomedial hypothalamus, lateral septum ventral and paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus), (ii) negative relationship with intensity (cingulate cortex 1, posterior insular cortex, dorsal striatum, nucleus accumbens and some subdivisions of the hippocampal formation); (iii) activation not dependent on the intensity of the stressor (prelimbic and infralimbic cortex and lateral and basolateral amygdala); and (iv) activation specifically associated with cat odor (ventromedial amygdala and ventromedial hypothalamus). Histone 3 phosphorylation at serine 10, another neuronal activation marker, corroborated c-fos results. Summarizing, deepest analysis of the brain activation pattern elicit by emotional stressor indicated that, in spite of activating similar areas, each stressor possess their own brain activation signature, mediated mainly by qualitative aspects but also by intensity.


c-fos Histone 3 phosphorylation ACTH Stressor intensity Cat odor Immobilization 



This work was supported by grants from the Spanish government to AA and RN: “Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad” (Grant number SAF2014-53876R) and “Generalitat de Catalunya” (SGR 2014−1020). JU-C is the recipient of predoctoral fellowship from “Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad” (Grant number BES-2015-071464). RN is the recipient of an ICREA-ACADEMIA award (2015–2019) from “Generalitat de Catalunya”. IM-B was a recipient of a predoctoral fellowship from the Basque Government (Grant number 2008-AE). The UAB animal facility received funding from 2015FEDER7S-20IU16-001945.

Supplementary material

429_2018_1624_MOESM1_ESM.docx (26 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 26 KB)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut de NeurociènciesUniversitat Autònoma de BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain
  2. 2.CIBERSAMInstituto de Salud Carlos IIIMadridSpain
  3. 3.Animal Physiology Unit, School of BiosciencesUniversitat Autònoma de BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain
  4. 4.Psychobiology Unit, School of PsychologyUniversitat Autònoma de BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain
  5. 5.Department of Anatomy, Institute of Biomedical SciencesUniversity of São PauloSão PauloBrazil

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