We used an established preclinical social defeat stress mouse model to study whether EA treatment modulates PTSD-like symptoms and understand its underlying mechanisms. To this end, male C57BL/6 mice were subjected to repeated social defeat stress (RSDS) for 6 consecutive days to induce symptoms of PTSD and treated with EA at Baihui (GV 20) and Dazhui (GV 14) acupoints.
Results: The stimulation of EA, but not needle insertion at Baihui (GV 20) and Dazhui (GV 14) acupoints effectively improved PTSD-like behaviors such as, social avoidance and anxiety-like behaviors. However, EA stimulation at the bilateral Tianzong (SI11) acupoints did not affect the PTSD-like behaviors obtained by RSDS. EA stimulation also markedly inhibited astrocyte activation in both the dorsal and ventral hippocampi of RSDS-treated mice. Using next-generation sequencing analysis, our results showed that EA stimulation attenuated RSDS-enhanced lipocalin 2 expression in the hippocampus. Importantly, using double-staining immunofluorescence, we observed that the increased lipocalin 2 expression in astrocytes by RSDS was also reduced by EA stimulation. In addition, intracerebroventricular injection of mouse recombinant lipocalin 2 protein in the lateral ventricles provoked social avoidance, anxiety-like behaviors, and the activation of astrocytes in the hippocampus. Interestingly, the overexpression of lipocalin 2 in the brain also altered the expression of stress-related genes, including monoamine oxidase A, monoamine oxidase B, mineralocorticoid receptor, and glucocorticoid receptor in the hippocampus.
Conclusions: This study suggests that the treatment of EA at Baihui (GV 20) and Dazhui (GV 14) acupoints improves RSDS-induced social avoidance, anxiety-like behaviors, astrocyte activation, and lipocalin 2 expression. Furthermore, our findings also indicate that lipocalin 2 expression in the brain may be an important biomarker for the development of PTSD-related symptoms.