OBJECTIVE Stress and increased glucocorticoid levels are associated with many neuropsychiatric disorders including schizophrenia and depression. Recently, the role of vascular endothelial factor receptor-2 (VEGFR2/Flk1) signaling has been implicated in stress-mediated neuroplasticity. However, the mechanism of regulation of VEGF/Flk1 signaling under long-term continuous glucocorticoid exposure has not been elucidated. MATERIAL AND METHODS We examined the possible effects of long-term continuous glucocorticoid exposure on VEGF/Flk1 signaling in cultured cortical neurons in vitro, mouse frontal cortex in vivo, and in post mortem human prefrontal cortex of both control and schizophrenia subjects. RESULTS We found that long-term continuous exposure to corticosterone (CORT, a natural glucocorticoid) reduced Flk1 protein levels both in vitro and in vivo. CORT treatment resulted in alterations in signaling molecules downstream to Flk1 such as PTEN, Akt and mTOR. We demonstrated that CORT-induced changes in Flk1 levels are mediated through glucocorticoid receptor (GR) and calcium. A significant reduction in Flk1-GR interaction was observed following CORT exposure. Interestingly, VEGF levels were increased in cortex, but decreased in serum following CORT treatment. Moreover, significant reductions in Flk1 and GR protein levels were found in postmortem prefrontal cortex samples from schizophrenia subjects. CONCLUSIONS The alterations in VEGF/Flk1 signaling following long-term continuous CORT exposure represents a molecular mechanism of the neurobiological effects of chronic stress.
Howell, K. R., Kutiyanawalla, A., & Pillai, A. (2011). Long-term continuous corticosterone treatment decreases VEGF receptor-2 expression in frontal cortex. PLoS ONE, 6(5). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0020198