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Chronic stress and plasticity in the limbic system: implications for post traumatic stress disorder

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The brain is a fundamental target of the stress response that promotes adaptation and survival but the repeated activation of the stress response has the potential alter cognition, emotion, and motivation, key functions of the limbic system. Three structures of

The brain is a fundamental target of the stress response that promotes adaptation and survival but the repeated activation of the stress response has the potential alter cognition, emotion, and motivation, key functions of the limbic system. Three structures of the limbic system in particular, the hippocampus, medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), and amygdala, are of special interest due to documented structural changes and their implication in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One of many notable chronic stress-induced changes include dendritic arbor restructuring, which reflect plasticity patterns in parallel with the direction of alterations observed in functional imaging studies in PTSD patients. For instance, chronic stress produces dendritic retraction in the hippocampus and mPFC, but dendritic hypertrophy in the amygdala, consistent with functional imaging in patients with PTSD. Some have hypothesized that these limbic region's modifications contribute to one's susceptibility to develop PTSD following a traumatic event. Consequently, we used a familiar chronic stress procedure in a rat model to create a vulnerable brain that might develop traits consistent with PTSD when presented with a challenge. In adult male rats, chronic stress by wire mesh restraint (6h/d/21d) was followed by a variety of behavioral tasks including radial arm water maze (RAWM), fear conditioning and extinction, and fear memory reconsolidation to determine chronic stress effects on behaviors mediated by these limbic structures. In chapter 2, we corroborated past findings that chronic stress caused hippocampal CA3 dendritic retraction. Importantly, we present new findings that CA3 dendritic retraction corresponded with poor spatial memory in the RAWM and that these outcomes reversed after a recovery period. In chapter 3, we also showed that chronic stress impaired mPFC-mediated extinction memory, findings that others have reported. Using carefully assessed behavior, we present new findings that chronic stress impacted nonassociative fear by enhancing contextual fear during extinction that generalized to a new context. Moreover, the generalization behavior corresponded with enhanced functional activation in the hippocampus and amygdala during fear extinction memory retrieval. In chapter 5, we showed for the first time that chronic stress enhanced amygdala functional activation during fear memory retrieval, i.e., reactivation. Moreover, these enhanced fear memories were resistant to protein synthesis interference to disrupt a previously formed memory, called reconsolidation in a novel attempt to weaken chronic stress enhanced traumatic memory. Collectively, these studies demonstrated the plastic and dynamic effects of chronic stress on limbic neurocircuitry implicated in PTSD. We showed that chronic stress created a structural and functional imbalance across the hippocampus, mPFC, and amygdala, which lead to a PTSD-like phenotype with persistent and exaggerated fear following fear conditioning. These behavioral disruptions in conjunction with morphological and functional imaging data reflect a chronic stress-induced imbalance between hippocampal and mPFC regulation in favor of amygdala function overdrive, and supports a novel approach for traumatic memory processing in PTSD.

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2013

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Optimization of menopausal hormone therapies for cognitive and brain aging using a rat model

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Each year, millions of aging women will experience menopause, a transition from reproductive capability to reproductive senescence. In women, this transition is characterized by depleted ovarian follicles, declines in levels of sex hormones, and a dysregulation of gonadotrophin feedback loops.

Each year, millions of aging women will experience menopause, a transition from reproductive capability to reproductive senescence. In women, this transition is characterized by depleted ovarian follicles, declines in levels of sex hormones, and a dysregulation of gonadotrophin feedback loops. Consequently, menopause is accompanied by hot flashes, urogenital atrophy, cognitive decline, and other symptoms that reduce quality of life. To ameliorate these negative consequences, estrogen-containing hormone therapy is prescribed. Findings from clinical and pre-clinical research studies suggest that menopausal hormone therapies can benefit memory and associated neural substrates. However, findings are variable, with some studies reporting null or even detrimental cognitive and neurobiological effects of these therapies. Thus, at present, treatment options for optimal cognitive and brain health outcomes in menopausal women are limited. As such, elucidating factors that influence the cognitive and neurobiological effects of menopausal hormone therapy represents an important need relevant to every aging woman. To this end, work in this dissertation has supported the hypothesis that multiple factors, including post-treatment circulating estrogen levels, experimental handling, type of estrogen treatment, and estrogen receptor activity, can impact the realization of cognitive benefits with Premarin hormone therapy. We found that the dose-dependent working memory benefits of subcutaneous Premarin administration were potentially regulated by the ratios of circulating estrogens present following treatment (Chapter 2). When we administered Premarin orally, it impaired memory (Chapter 3). Follow-up studies revealed that this impairment was likely due to the handling associated with treatment administration and the task difficulty of the memory measurement used (Chapters 3 and 4). Further, we demonstrated that the unique cognitive impacts of estrogens that become increased in circulation following Premarin treatments, such as estrone (Chapter 5), and their interactions with the estrogen receptors (Chapter 6), may influence the realization of hormone therapy-induced cognitive benefits. Future directions include assessing the mnemonic effects of: 1) individual biologically relevant estrogens and 2) clinically-used bioidentical hormone therapy combinations of estrogens. Taken together, information gathered from these studies can inform the development of novel hormone therapies in which these parameters are optimized.

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2013

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MicroRNA regulation of addiction-related gene expression and motivation for cocaine in rats

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MicroRNAs are small, non-coding transcripts that post-transcriptionally regulate expression of multiple genes. Recently microRNAs have been linked to the etiology of neuropsychiatric disorders, including drug addiction. Following genome-wide sequence analyses, microRNA-495 (miR-495) was found to target several genes within the

MicroRNAs are small, non-coding transcripts that post-transcriptionally regulate expression of multiple genes. Recently microRNAs have been linked to the etiology of neuropsychiatric disorders, including drug addiction. Following genome-wide sequence analyses, microRNA-495 (miR-495) was found to target several genes within the Knowledgebase of Addiction-Related Genes (KARG) database and to be highly expressed in the nucleus accumbens (NAc), a pivotal brain region involved in reward and motivation. The central hypothesis of this dissertation is that NAc miR-495 regulates drug abuse-related behavior by targeting several addiction-related genes (ARGs). I tested this hypothesis in two ways: 1) by examining the effects of viral-mediated miR-495 overexpression or inhibition in the NAc of rats on cocaine abuse-related behaviors and gene expression, and 2) by examining changes in NAc miR-495 and ARG expression as a result of brief (i.e., 1 day) or prolonged (i.e., 22 days) cocaine self-administration. I found that behavioral measures known to be sensitive to motivation for cocaine were attenuated by NAc miR-495 overexpression, including resistance to extinction of cocaine conditioned place preference (CPP), cocaine self-administration on a high effort progressive ratio schedule of reinforcement, and cocaine-seeking behavior during both extinction and cocaine-primed reinstatement. These effects appeared specific to cocaine, as there was no effect of NAc miR-495 overexpression on a progressive ratio schedule of food reinforcement. In contrast, behavioral measures known to be sensitive to cocaine reward were not altered, including expression of cocaine CPP and cocaine self-administration under a low effort FR5 schedule of reinforcement. Importantly, the effects were accompanied by decreases in NAc ARG expression, consistent with my hypothesis. In further support, I found that NAc miR-495 levels were reduced and ARG levels were increased in rats following prolonged, but not brief, cocaine self-administration experience. Surprisingly, inhibition of NAc miR-495 expression also decreased both cocaine-seeking behavior during extinction and NAc ARG expression, which may reflect compensatory changes or unexplained complexities in miR-495 regulatory effects. Collectively, the findings suggest that NAc miR-495 regulates ARG expression involved in motivation for cocaine. Therefore, using microRNAs as tools to target several ARGs simultaneously may be useful for future development of addiction therapeutics.

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2016

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Individual differences in the efficacy of sodium chloride and sucrose as bitterness suppressors of brassicaceae vegetables

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The unpleasant bitter taste found in many nutritious vegetables may deter their consumption. While bitterness suppression by prototypical tastants is well-studied in the chemical and pharmacological fields, mechanisms to reduce the bitterness of foods such as vegetables remain to

The unpleasant bitter taste found in many nutritious vegetables may deter their consumption. While bitterness suppression by prototypical tastants is well-studied in the chemical and pharmacological fields, mechanisms to reduce the bitterness of foods such as vegetables remain to be elucidated. Here tastants representing the taste primaries of salty and sweet were investigated as potential bitterness suppressors of three types of Brassicaceae vegetables. The secondary aim of these studies was to determine whether the bitter masking agents were differentially effective for bitter-sensitive and bitter-insensitive individuals. In all experiments, participants rated vegetables plain and with the addition of tastants. In Experiments 1-3, sucrose and NNS suppressed the bitterness of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower, whereas NaCl did not. Varying concentrations of NaCl and sucrose were introduced in Experiment 4 to assess the dose-dependency of the effects. While sucrose was a robust bitterness suppressor, NaCl suppressed bitterness only for participants who perceived the plain Brussels sprouts as highly bitter. Experiment 5, through the implementation of a rigorous control condition, determined that some but not all of this effect can be accounted for by regression to the mean. Individual variability in taste perception as determined by sampling of aqueous bitter, salty, and sweet solutions did not influence the degree of suppression by NaCl or sucrose. Consumption of vegetables is deterred by their bitter taste. Utilizing tastants to mask bitterness, a technique that preserves endogenous nutrients, can circumvent this issue. Sucrose is a robust bitter suppressor whereas the efficacy of NaCl is dependent upon bitterness perception of the plain vegetables.

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2014

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Effects of nicotine on response inhibition and fos activation in spontaneously hypertensive and wistar kyoto Rats

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Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, and early initiation is associated with greater difficulty quitting. Among adolescent smokers, those with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), characterized by difficulties associated with impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inattention,

Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, and early initiation is associated with greater difficulty quitting. Among adolescent smokers, those with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), characterized by difficulties associated with impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inattention, smoke at nearly twice the rate of their peers. Although cigarette smoking is highly addictive, nicotine is a relatively weak primary reinforcer, spurring research on other potential targets that may maintain smoking, including the potential benefits of nicotine on attention, inhibition, and reinforcer efficacy. The present study employs the most prevalent rodent model of ADHD, the spontaneously hypertensive rat (SHR) and its control comparison Wistar Kyoto (WKY) to examine the effects of acute and chronic subcutaneous nicotine injections on performance in three operant response inhibition paradigms. Functional activation in select regions of the prefrontal cortex and striatum was also explored. Acute (0.1, 0.3, 0.6 mg/kg) and chronic (0.3 mg/kg) nicotine increased impulsive responding regardless of strain, dose, or operant schedule. Dose-dependent decreases in latency to initiate the task were also observed. SHR receiving daily nicotine injections showed less activation in the nucleus accumbens shell compared to saline controls. Despite close similarities, one of the three operant tasks did not detect response inhibition deficits in SHR relative to WKY. A closer examination of these tasks may highlight critical components involved in the amelioration of response inhibition deficits.

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2014

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Methamphetamine and novel "legal high" methamphetamine mimetics: abuse liability, toxicity, and potential pharmacobehavioral treatments

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Globally, addiction to stimulants such as methamphetamine (METH) remains a significant public health problem. Despite decades of research, no approved anti-relapse medications for METH or any illicit stimulant exist, and current treatment approaches suffer from high relapse rates. Recently, synthetic

Globally, addiction to stimulants such as methamphetamine (METH) remains a significant public health problem. Despite decades of research, no approved anti-relapse medications for METH or any illicit stimulant exist, and current treatment approaches suffer from high relapse rates. Recently, synthetic cathinones have also emerged as popular abused stimulants, leading to numerous incidences of toxicity and death. However, contrary to traditional illicit stimulants, very little is known about their addiction potential. Given the high relapse rates and lack of approved medications for METH addiction, chapters 2 and 3 of this dissertation assessed three different glutamate receptor ligands as potential anti-relapse medications following METH intravenous self-administration (IVSA) in rats. In chapters 4 through 7, using both IVSA and intracranial self-stimulation (ICSS) procedures, experiments assessed abuse liability of the popular synthetic cathinones 3,4-Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) , methylone, α-pyrrolidinovalerophenone (α-PVP) and 4-methylethylcathinone (4-MEC). Results from these seminal studies suggest that these drugs possess similar abuse potential to traditional illicit stimulants such as METH, cocaine, and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). Finally, studies outlined in chapter 8 assessed the potential neurotoxic or adverse cognitive effects of METH and MDPV following IVSA procedures for the purpose of identifying potential novel pharmacotherapeutic targets. However, results of these final studies did not reveal neurotoxic or adverse cognitive effects when using similar IVSA procedural parameters that were sufficient for establishing addiction potential, suggesting that these parameters do not allow for sufficient drug intake to produce similar neurotoxicity or cognitive deficits reported in humans. Thus, these models may be inadequate for fully modeling the adverse neural and psychological consequences of stimulant addiction. Together, these studies support the notion for continued research into the abuse liability and toxicity of METH and synthetic cathinones and suggest that refinements to traditional IVSA models are needed for both more effective assessment of potential cognitive and neural deficits induced by these drugs and screening of potentially clinically efficacious pharmacotherapeutics.

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2014

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Modeling ADHD: impulsivity, hyperlocomotion, and sensitivity to nicotine in the SHR strain of rat

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ADHD is a childhood neurobehavioral disorder characterized by inordinate levels of hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity. The inability to withhold a reinforced response, or response inhibition capacity (RIC), is one aspect of impulsivity associated with ADHD. The first goal of this

ADHD is a childhood neurobehavioral disorder characterized by inordinate levels of hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity. The inability to withhold a reinforced response, or response inhibition capacity (RIC), is one aspect of impulsivity associated with ADHD. The first goal of this dissertation was to evaluate the fixed minimum interval (FMI) schedule as a method for assessing RIC. Chapter 2 showed that latencies were substantially more sensitive than FMI-derived estimates of RIC to the effects of pre-feeding and changes in rate and magnitude of reinforcement. Chapter 3 examined the ability of the FMI to discriminate between spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR), an animal model of ADHD, and Wistar Kyoto (WKY) controls. Results from Chapter 3 showed that RIC was not substantially different between SHR and WKY rats. However, latencies were significantly shorter for SHRs than for WKYs suggesting incentive motivation differed between strains. The second goal of this dissertation was to examine the sensitivity of the SHR to nicotine. ADHD is a risk factor for tobacco dependence. The goal of Chapters 4 and 5 was to determine whether the SHR provided a model of ADHD-related tobacco sensitivity. Chapter 4 examined nicotine's locomotor and rewarding effects in adolescent SHRs using the conditioned place preference (CPP) procedure. SHRs developed CPP to the highest nicotine dose tested and were sensitive to nicotine's locomotor-enhancing properties. WKY controls did not develop CPP to any nicotine dose tested and were not sensitive to nicotine's locomotor properties. However, it is likely that nicotine effects were obscured by a pseudo-conditioning to saline in WKYs. Chapter 5 demonstrated that SHRs were more active than WKYs in the open-field but not in the Rotorat apparatus. Results also showed that SHRs and WKYs were both sensitive to nicotine's locomotor sensitizing effects. However, WKYs were more sensitive than SHRs to nicotine's locomotor suppressing effects. Collectively, results from Chapters 4 and 5 show that SHRs are sensitive to the rewarding and locomotor-enhancing properties of nicotine. However, more research is necessary to confirm that SHRs are a suitable model for studying ADHD-related tobacco use.

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2015

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mGluR5 Positive allosteric modulation as a novel therapeutic target for the cognitive deficits associated with schizophrenia

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Patients with schizophrenia have impaired cognitive flexibility, as evidenced by behaviors of perseveration. Cognitive impairments may be due to dysregulation of glutamate and/or loss of neuronal plasticity in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). The purpose of these studies was to

Patients with schizophrenia have impaired cognitive flexibility, as evidenced by behaviors of perseveration. Cognitive impairments may be due to dysregulation of glutamate and/or loss of neuronal plasticity in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). The purpose of these studies was to examine the effects of mGluR5 positive allosteric modulators (PAMs) alone and in combination with the NMDAR antagonist MK-801, a pharmacological model of schizophrenia. An operant-based cognitive set-shifting task was utilized to assess cognitive flexibility, in vivo microdialysis procedures to measure extracellular glutamate levels in the mPFC, and diolistic labeling to assess the effects on dendritic spine density and morphology in the mPFC. Results revealed that chronic administration of the mGluR5 PAM CDPPB was able to significantly reduce the effects of chronically administered MK-801 on both behavioral perseveration and glutamate neurotransmission. Results also showed that CDPPB had no evidence of an effect on dendritic spine density or morphology, but the mGluR5 negative allosteric modulator fenobam caused significant increases in spine density and the frequency of occurrence of spines with smaller head diameters. Conclusions include that CDPPB is able to reverse MK-801 induced cognitive deficits as well as alterations in mPFC glutamate neurochemistry. The culmination of these studies add further support for targeting mGluR5 with PAMs as a novel mechanism to alleviate cognitive impairments in patients with schizophrenia.

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2014

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Prosocial influences on nicotine reinforcement, reward, and neural signaling in rodent models

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Social influences are important determinants of drug initiation in humans, particularly during adolescence and early adulthood. My dissertation tested three hypotheses: 1) conditioned and unconditioned nicotine and social rewards elicit unique patterns of neural signaling in the corticolimbic neurocircuitry

Social influences are important determinants of drug initiation in humans, particularly during adolescence and early adulthood. My dissertation tested three hypotheses: 1) conditioned and unconditioned nicotine and social rewards elicit unique patterns of neural signaling in the corticolimbic neurocircuitry when presented in combination versus individually; 2) play behavior is not necessary for expression of social reward; and 3) social context enhances nicotine self-administration. To test the first hypothesis, Fos protein was measured in response to social and nicotine reward stimuli given alone or in combination and in response to environmental cues associated with the rewards in a conditioned place preference (CPP) test. Social-conditioned environmental stimuli attenuated Fos expression in the nucleus accumbens core. A social partner elevated Fos expression in the caudate-putamen, medial and central amygdala, and both nucleus accumbens subregions. Nicotine decreased Fos expression in the cingulate cortex, caudate-putamen, and the nucleus accumbens core. Both stimuli combined elevated Fos expression in the basolateral amygdala and ventral tegmental area, suggesting possible overlap in processing both rewards in these regions. I tested the second hypothesis with an apparatus containing compartments separated by a wire mesh barrier that allowed limited physical contact with a rat or object. While 2 pairings with a partner rat (full physical contact) produced robust CPP, additional pairings were needed for CPP with a partner behind a barrier or physical contact with an object (i.e., tennis ball). The results demonstrate that physical contact with a partner rat is not necessary to establish social-reward CPP. I tested the third hypothesis with duplex operant conditioning chambers separated either by a solid or a wire mesh barrier to allow for social interaction during self-administration sessions. Nicotine (0.015 and 0.03 mg/kg, IV) and saline self-administration were assessed in male and female young-adult rats either in the social context or isolation. Initially, a social context facilitated nicotine intake at the low dose in male rats, but suppressed intake in later sessions more strongly in female rats, suggesting that social factors exert strong sex-dependent influences on self-administration. These novel findings highlight the importance of social influences on several nicotine-related behavioral paradigms and associated neurocircuitry.

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2015

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Perturbations in The Arrow of Time: Computational and Procedural Dissociations of Timing and Non-Timing Processes

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Timing performance is sensitive to fluctuations in time and motivation, thus interval timing and motivation are either inseparable or conflated processes. A behavioral systems model (e.g., Timberlake, 2000) of timing performance (Chapter 1) suggests that timing performance in externally-initiated (EI)

Timing performance is sensitive to fluctuations in time and motivation, thus interval timing and motivation are either inseparable or conflated processes. A behavioral systems model (e.g., Timberlake, 2000) of timing performance (Chapter 1) suggests that timing performance in externally-initiated (EI) procedures conflates behavioral modes differentially sensitive to motivation, but that response-initiated (RI) procedures potentially dissociate these behavioral modes. That is, timing performance in RI procedures is expected to not conflate these behavioral modes. According to the discriminative RI hypothesis, as initiating-responses become progressively discriminable from target responses, initiating-responses increasingly dissociate interval timing and motivation. Rats were trained in timing procedures in which a switch from a Short to a Long interval indexes timing performance (a latency-to-switch, LTS), and were then challenged with pre-feeding and extinction probes. In experiments 1 (Chapter 2) and 2 (Chapter 3), discriminability of initiating-responses was varied as a function of time, location, and form for rats trained in a switch-timing procedure. In experiment 3 (Chapter 4), the generalizability of the discriminative RI hypothesis was evaluated in rats trained in a temporal bisection procedure. In experiment 3, but not 1 and 2, RI enhanced temporal control of LTSs relative to EI. In experiments 1 and 2, the robustness of LTS medians to pre-feeding but not extinction increased with the discriminability of initiating-responses from target responses. In experiment 3, the mean LTS was robust to pre-feeding in EI and RI. In all three experiments, pre-feeding increased LTS variability in EI and RI. These results provide moderate support for the discriminative RI hypothesis, indicating that initiating-responses selectively and partially dissociate interval timing and motivation processes. Implications for the study of cognition and motivation processes are discussed (Chapter 5).

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2018