Congratulations to Sierra and the team for the publication in the International Journal of Neuropyschopharmacology.

Neuromorphological changes are consistently reported in the prefrontal cortex of patients with stress-related disorders and in rodent stress models, but the effects of stress on astrocyte morphology and the potential link to behavioral deficits are relatively unknown.

To answer these questions, transgenic mice expressing green fluorescent protein (GFP) under the glial fibrillary acid protein (GFAP) promotor were subjected to 7, 21, or 35 days of chronic restraint stress (CRS). CRS-induced behavioral effects on anhedonia- and anxiety-like behaviors were measured using the sucrose intake and the PhenoTyper tests, respectively. Prefrontal cortex GFP+ or GFAP+ cell morphology was assessed using Sholl analysis, and associations with behavior were determined using correlation analysis.

CRS-exposed male and female mice displayed anxiety-like behavior at 7, 21, and 35 days and anhedonia-like behavior at 35 days. Analysis of GFAP+ cell morphology revealed significant atrophy of distal processes following 21 and 35 days of CRS. CRS induced similar decreases in intersections at distal radii for GFP+ cells accompanied by increased proximal processes. In males, the number of intersections at the most distal radius step significantly correlated with anhedonia-like behavior (r = 0.622, P < .05) for GFP+ cells and with behavioral emotionality calculated by z-scoring all behavioral measured deficits (r = −0.667, P < .05). Similar but not significant correlations were observed in females. No correlation between GFP+ cell atrophy with anxiety-like behavior was found.

Chronic stress exposure induces a progressive atrophy of cortical astroglial cells, potentially contributing to maladaptive neuroplastic and behavioral changes associated with stress-related disorders.