Neurotrophic-priming of glucocorticoid receptor signaling is essential for neuronal plasticity to stress and antidepressant treatment
Neurotrophins and glucocorticoids are robust synaptic modifiers, and deregulation of their activities is a risk factor for developing stress-related disorders. Low levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) increase the desensitization of glucocorticoid receptors (GR) and vulnerability to stress, whereas higher levels of BDNF facilitate GR-mediated signaling and the response to antidepressants. However, the molecular mechanism underlying neurotrophic-priming of GR function is poorly understood. Here we provide evidence that activation of a TrkB-MAPK pathway, when paired with the deactivation of a GR-protein phosphatase 5 pathway, resulted in sustained GR phosphorylation at BDNF-sensitive sites that is essential for the transcription of neuronal plasticity genes. Genetic strategies that disrupted GR phosphorylation or TrkB signaling in vivo impaired the neuroplasticity to chronic stress and the effects of the antidepressant fluoxetine. Our findings reveal that the coordinated actions of BDNF and glucocorticoids promote neuronal plasticity and that disruption in either pathway could set the stage for the development of stress-induced psychiatric diseases.