Affective-related endophenotypes in serotonin transporter over-expressing mice
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The affective disorders (anxiety and depression) are common psychiatric disorders that primarily involve disturbances in mood and represent the second leading source of disease burden world-wide. A wide base of evidence supports a significant genetic contribution to these disorders. Polymorphic variation in the promoter region (5-HTTLPR) of the human serotonin transporter (hSERT) gene, which leads to a life-long alteration in serotonin transporter (SERT) expression and functioning, has been implicated in the aetiology of both anxiety and depression. Despite the strong evidence implicating a role for this polymorphism in affective psychopathology the underlying mechanism by which genetically determined SERT bioavailability influences affective functioning are not understood. In these studies I attempt to elucidate the alterations in cerebral, serotonin (5-HT) system and hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis functioning which may relate to the effect of the 5-HTTLPR on affective functioning by characterising these parameters in an animal model of genetically increased SERT expression (hSERT over-expressing mice; hSERT OVR). Furthermore, as gender influences both the likelihood of developing affective disorders and the impact of the 5-HTTLPR on affective functioning, with a greater effect being observed in females than in males, we characterise these parameters in mice of both genders. The data presented in this thesis demonstrate that the life-long increase in SERT bioavailability present in hSERT OVR mice produces profound alterations in cerebral, serotonin system and HPA axis functioning. Furthermore, the influence of increased SERT expression upon cerebral and serotonin system functioning is greater in females than in males. Additionally, a number of sexually dimorphic variations in serotonin system functioning were identified. Thus this thesis extends the currently available information regarding the underlying mechanisms by which gender and a life-long alteration in SERT expression may influence the risk of affective psychopathology.