Stress often occurs within the context of homeostatic threat, requiring integration of physiological and psychological demands to trigger appropriate behavioral, autonomic and endocrine responses. However, the neural mechanism underlying stress integration remains elusive. Using an acute hypernatremic challenge (2.0. M NaCl subcutaneous), we assessed whether physical state may affect subsequent responsiveness to psychogenic stressors. We found that experienced forced swimming (FS, 15. min in 25. °C), a model of psychogenic stress, enhanced long-term potentiation (LTP) induction in the dentate gyrus (DG) of the rat hippocampus ex vivo. The effect of FS on LTP was prevented when the animals were adrenalectomized or given mineralocorticoid receptor antagonist RU28318 before experiencing stress. Intriguingly, relative to normonatremic controls, hypernatremic challenge effectively elevated plasma sodium concentration and dampened FS-induced enhancement of LTP, which was prevented by adrenalectomy. In addition, acute hypernatremic challenge resulted in increased extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK)1/2 phosphorylation in the DG and occluded the subsequent activation of ERK1/2 by FS. Moreover, stress response dampening effects by acute hypernatremic challenge remained intact in conditional oxytocin receptor knockout mice. These results suggest that acute hypernatremic challenge evokes a sustained increase in plasma corticosterone concentration, which in turn produces stress-like changes in the DG, thereby occluding subsequent responsiveness to psychogenetic stress. They also fit into the general concept of "metaplasticity" - that is, the responsiveness to stress is not fixed but appears to be governed by the recent history of prior physical state.
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