Chronically dysregulated corticosterone impairs dopaminergic transmission in the dorsomedial striatum by sex-divergent mechanisms

Ashley L. Holloway, Michael D. Schaid, Talia N. Lerner*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a leading cause of disability worldwide. Individuals with MDD exhibit decreased motivation and deficits in reward processing. In a subset of MDD patients, chronic dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis occurs, resulting in increased levels of the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol during the normal rest period (i.e., evening and night). However, the mechanistic relationship between chronically elevated resting cortisol and behavioral deficits in motivation and reward processing remains unclear. Given that women are diagnosed with MDD at twice the rate of men, it is important to understand whether the mechanisms linking cortisol to the symptoms of MDD differ by sex. In this study, we used subcutaneous implants to chronically elevate free plasma corticosterone (the rodent homolog of cortisol; ‘CORT’) during the rest period in male and female mice and examined changes in behavior and dopamine system function. We found that chronic CORT treatment impaired motivated reward-seeking in both sexes. In female but not male mice, CORT treatment reduced dopamine content in the dorsomedial striatum (DMS). In male but not female mice, CORT treatment impaired the function of the dopamine transporter (DAT) in DMS. From these studies, we conclude that chronic CORT dysregulation impairs motivation by impairing dopaminergic transmission in the DMS, but via different mechanisms in male and female mice. A better understanding of these sex-specific mechanisms could lead to new directions in MDD diagnosis and treatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1328-1337
Number of pages10
Issue number9
StatePublished - Aug 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology


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