Obese mice exposed to psychosocial stress display cardiac and hippocampal dysfunction associated with local brain-derived neurotrophic factor depletion

Jacopo Agrimi, Cristina Spalletti, Carlotta Baroni, Gizem Keceli, Guangshuo Zhu, Angela Caragnano, Marco Matteucci, Stephen Chelko, Genaro A. Ramirez-Correa, Djahida Bedja, Valentina Casieri, Nicole Di Lascio, Arianna Scalco, Antonio Paolo Beltrami, Nazareno Paolocci, Matteo Caleo, Vincenzo Lionetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Introduction: Obesity and psychosocial stress (PS) co-exist in individuals of Western society. Nevertheless, how PS impacts cardiac and hippocampal phenotype in obese subjects is still unknown. Nor is it clear whether changes in local brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) account, at least in part, for myocardial and behavioral abnormalities in obese experiencing PS. Methods: In adult male WT mice, obesity was induced via a high-fat diet (HFD). The resident-intruder paradigm was superimposed to trigger PS. In vivo left ventricular (LV) performance was evaluated by echocardiography and pressure-volume loops. Behaviour was indagated by elevated plus maze (EPM) and Y-maze. LV myocardium was assayed for apoptosis, fibrosis, vessel density and oxidative stress. Hippocampus was analyzed for volume, neurogenesis, GABAergic markers and astrogliosis. Cardiac and hippocampal BDNF and TrkB levels were measured by ELISA and WB. We investigated the pathogenetic role played by BDNF signaling in additional cardiac-selective TrkB (cTrkB) KO mice. Findings: When combined, obesity and PS jeopardized LV performance, causing prominent apoptosis, fibrosis, oxidative stress and remodeling of the larger coronary branches, along with lower BDNF and TrkB levels. HFD/PS weakened LV function similarly in WT and cTrkB KO mice. The latter exhibited elevated LV ROS emission already at baseline. Obesity/PS augmented anxiety-like behaviour and impaired spatial memory. These changes were coupled to reduced hippocampal volume, neurogenesis, local BDNF and TrkB content and augmented astrogliosis. Interpretation: PS and obesity synergistically deteriorate myocardial structure and function by depleting cardiac BDNF/TrkB content, leading to augmented oxidative stress. This comorbidity triggers behavioral deficits and induces hippocampal remodeling, potentially via lower BDNF and TrkB levels. Fund: J.A. was in part supported by Rotary Foundation Global Study Scholarship. G.K. was supported by T32 National Institute of Health (NIH) training grant under award number 1T32AG058527. S.C. was funded by American Heart Association Career Development Award (19CDA34760185). G.A.R.C. was funded by NIH ( K01HL133368-01). APB was funded by a Grant from the Friuli Venezia Giulia Region entitled: “Heart failure as the Alzheimer disease of the heart; therapeutic and diagnostic opportunities”. M.C. was supported by PRONAT project ( CNR). N.P. was funded by NIH ( R01 HL136918) and by the Magic-That-Matters fund (JHU). V.L. was in part supported by institutional funds from Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna (Pisa, Italy), by the TIM-Telecom Italia (WHITE Lab, Pisa, Italy), by a research grant from Pastificio Attilio Mastromauro Granoro s.r.l. (Corato, Italy) and in part by ETHERNA project (Prog. n. 161/16, Fondazione Pisa, Italy). Funding source had no such involvement in study design, in the collection, analysis, interpretation of data, in the writing of the report; and in the decision to submit the paper for publication.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)384-401
Number of pages18
StatePublished - Sep 2019


  • Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)
  • Brain-heart axis
  • Hippocampus
  • Left ventricle
  • Obesity
  • Oxidative stress
  • Psychosocial stress
  • Tropomyosin receptor kinase B (TrkB)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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