A central master driver of psychosocial stress responses in the rat

The mechanism by which psychological stress elicits various physiological responses is unknown. We discovered a central master neural pathway in rats that drives autonomic and behavioral stress responses by connecting the corticolimbic stress circuits to the hypothalamus. Psychosocial stress signals from emotion-related forebrain regions activated a VGLUT1-positive glutamatergic pathway from the dorsal peduncular cortex and dorsal tenia tecta (DP/DTT), an unexplored prefrontal cortical area, to the dorsomedial hypothalamus (DMH), a hypothalamic autonomic center. Genetic ablation and optogenetics revealed that the DP/DTT->DMH pathway drives thermogenic, hyperthermic, and cardiovascular sympathetic responses to psychosocial stress without contributing to basal homeostasis. This pathway also mediates avoidance behavior from psychosocial stressors. Given the variety of stress responses driven by the DP/DTT->DMH pathway, the DP/DTT can be a potential target for treating psychosomatic disorders.