Chronic cortisol differentially impacts stem cell-derived astrocytes from major depressive disorder patients

Kelly J. Heard, Maxim N. Shokhirev, Caroline Becronis, Callie Fredlender, Nadia Zahid, Amy T. Le, Yuan Ji, Michelle Skime, Timothy Nelson, Daniel Hall-Flavin, Richard Weinshilboum, Fred H. Gage, Krishna C. Vadodaria

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a prevalent psychiatric disorder, and exposure to stress is a robust risk factor for MDD. Clinical data and rodent models have indicated the negative impact of chronic exposure to stress-induced hormones like cortisol on brain volume, memory, and cell metabolism. However, the cellular and transcriptomic changes that occur in the brain after prolonged exposure to cortisol are less understood. Furthermore, the astrocyte-specific contribution to cortisol-induced neuropathology remains understudied. Here, we have developed an in vitro model of “chronic stress” using human induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-derived astrocytes treated with cortisol for 7 days. Whole transcriptome sequencing reveals differentially expressed genes (DEGs) uniquely regulated in chronic cortisol compared to acute cortisol treatment. Utilizing this paradigm, we examined the stress response transcriptome of astrocytes generated from MDD patient iPSCs. The MDD-specific DEGs are related to GPCR ligand binding, synaptic signaling, and ion homeostasis. Together, these data highlight the unique role astrocytes play in the central nervous system and present interesting genes for future study into the relationship between chronic stress and MDD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number608
JournalTranslational psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry


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