Stress-induced alterations in prefrontal cortical dendritic morphology predict selective impairments in perceptual attentional set-shifting

Conor Liston, Melinda M. Miller, Deena S. Goldwater, Jason J. Radley, Anne B. Rocher, Patrick R. Hof, John Morrison, Bruce S. McEwen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

636 Scopus citations


Stressful life events have been implicated clinically in the pathogenesis of mental illness, but the neural substrates that may account for this observation remain poorly understood. Attentional impairments symptomatic of these psychiatric conditions are associated with structural and functional abnormalities in a network of prefrontal cortical structures. Here, we examine whether chronic stress-induced dendritic alterations in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and orbital frontal cortex (OFC) underlie impairments in the behaviors that they subserve. After 21 d of repeated restraint stress, rats were tested on a perceptual attentional set-shifting task, which yields dissociable measures of reversal learning and attentional set-shifting, functions that are mediated by the OFC and mPFC, respectively. Intracellular iontophoretic injections of Lucifer yellow were performed in a subset of these rats to examine dendritic morphology in layer II/III pyramidal cells of the mPFC and lateral OFC. Chronic stress induced a selective impairment in attentional set-shifting and a corresponding retraction (20%) of apical dendritic arbors in the mPFC. In stressed rats, but not in controls, decreased dendritic arborization in the mPFC predicted impaired attentional set-shifting performance. In contrast, stress was not found to adversely affect reversal learning or dendritic morphology in the lateral OFC. Instead, apical dendritic arborization in the OFC was increased by 43%. This study provides the first direct evidence that dendritic remodeling in the prefrontal cortex may underlie the functional deficits in attentional control that are symptomatic of stress-related mental illnesses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7870-7874
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number30
StatePublished - Jul 26 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Anterior cingulate cortex
  • Attention
  • Cell loading
  • Dendrite
  • Lateral orbitofrontal cortex
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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