Outside the brain: an inside view on transgenic animal and stem cell-based models to examine neuronal serotonin-dependent regulation of HPA axis-controlled events during development and adult stages

Jonas Waider, Janina Ziegler, Thorsten Lau


Recently, Trista North and colleagues showed that neuronal synthesis of serotonin is an essential key process for embryonic hematopoietic stem (HPS) cell production in zebrafish. Using their experimental design, they were able to show that neuronal serotonin activates the stress-responsive hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and glucocorticoid receptor activity which in turn induces HPS cell formation. In our perspective, we give a short overview on established experimental approaches for serotonergic neurotransmission in vivo and in vitro and their potential to address putative contributions of serotonergic neurotransmission to physiological processes beyond the central nervous systems (CNS). We briefly introduce common features of brain serotonin-depleted, tryptophan hydroxylase-2 knockout mice, which can be applied to investigate the contribution of brain-derived serotonin to developmental and adult physiological processes outside the CNS. These models allow to analyzing gender-specific, HPA axis-dependent processes in female and male knockout mice during developmental and adult stages. We also highlight the application of human and mouse stem cell-derived serotonergic neurons as an independent research model as well as complementary experimental approach to transgenic animal models. In case of human serotonergic neurotransmission, human in vitro-generated neurons present a very promising and highly valuable experimental approach to address characteristics of human neuronal serotonin signaling on a molecular and cellular level. The combination of transgenic animal models and newly established stem cell technologies will provide powerful research platforms, which will help to answer yet unsolved mysteries of serotonergic neurotransmission.