Effects of repeated voluntary or forced exercise on brainstem serotonergic systems in rats.
Voluntary exercise increases stress resistance by modulating stress-responsive neurocircuitry, including brainstem serotonergic systems. However, it remains unknown how exercise produces adaptations to serotonergic systems. Recruitment of serotonergic systems during repeated, daily exercise could contribute to the adaptations in serotonergic systems following exercise, but whether repeated voluntary exercise recruits serotonergic systems is unknown. In this study, we investigated the effects of six weeks of voluntary or forced exercise on rat brain serotonergic systems. Specifically, we analyzed c-Fos and FosB/ΔFosB as markers of acute and chronic cellular activation, respectively, in combination with tryptophan hydroxylase, a marker of serotonergic neurons, within subregions of the dorsal raphe nucleus using immunohistochemical staining. Compared to sedentary controls, rats exposed to repeated forced exercise, but not repeated voluntary exercise, displayed decreased c-Fos expression in serotonergic neurons in the rostral dorsal portion of the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRD) and increased c-Fos expression in serotonergic neurons in the caudal DR (DRC), and interfascicular part of the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRI) during the active phase of the diurnal activity rhythm. Similarly, increases in c-Fos expression in serotonergic neurons in the DRC, DRI, and ventral portion of the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRV) were observed in rats exposed to repeated forced exercise, compared to rats exposed to repeated voluntary exercise. Six weeks of forced exercise, relative to the sedentary control condition, also increased FosB/ΔFosB expression in DRD, DRI, and DRV serotonergic neurons. While both voluntary and forced exercise increase stress resistance, these results suggest that repeated forced exercise, but not repeated voluntary exercise, increases activation of DRI serotonergic neurons, an effect that may contribute to the stress resistance effects of forced exercise. These results also suggest that mechanisms of exercise-induced stress resistance may differ depending on the controllability of the exercise.