Kazue SANADA, Koji SUGIMOTO, Fumihiro SHUTOH, Setsuji HISANO
Perception of particular sensory stimuli from the surroundings can influence emotion in individuals. In an uncomfortable situation, humans protect themselves from some aversive stimulus by acutely evoking a stress response. Animal model studies have contributed to an understanding of neuronal mechanisms underlying the stress response in humans. To study a possible anti-stressful effect of lemon odor, an excitation of neurons secreting corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) as a primary factor of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) was analyzed in animal model experiments, in which rats are restrained in the presence or absence of the odor. The effect was evaluated by measuring expression of c-Fos (an excited neuron marker) in the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus (PVN), a key structure of the HPA in the brain. We prepared 3 animal groups: Groups S, L and I. Groups S and L were restrained for 30 minutes while being blown by air and being exposed to the lemon odor, respectively. Group I was intact without any treatment. Two hours later of the onset of experiments, brains of all groups were sampled and processed for microscopic examination. Brain sections were processed for c-Fos immunostaining and/or in situ hybridization for CRH. In Group S but not in Group I, c-Fos expression was found in the PVN. A combined in situ hybridization-immunohistochemical dual labeling revealed that CRH mRNA-expressing neurons express c-Fos. In computer-assisted automatic counting, the incidence of c-Fos-expressing neurons in the entire PVN was statistically lower in Group L than in Group S. Detailed analysis of PVN subregions demonstrated that c-Fos-expressing neurons are fewer in Group L than in Group S in the dorsal part of the medial parvocellular subregion. These results may suggest that lemon odor attenuates the restraint stress-induced neuronal activation including CRH neurons, presumably mimicking an aspect of stress responses in humans.