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Hippocampal BDNF mediates recovery from chronic stress-induced spatial reference memory deficits

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Chronic restraint stress impairs hippocampal-mediated spatial learning and memory, which improves following a post-stress recovery period. Here, we investigated whether brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein important for hippocampal

Chronic restraint stress impairs hippocampal-mediated spatial learning and memory, which improves following a post-stress recovery period. Here, we investigated whether brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein important for hippocampal function, would alter the recovery from chronic stress-induced spatial memory deficits. Adult male Sprague-Dawley rats were infused into the hippocampus with adeno- associated viral vectors containing the coding sequence for short interfering (si)RNA directed against BDNF or a scrambled sequence (Scr), with both containing the coding information for green fluorescent protein to aid in anatomical localization. Rats were then chronically restrained (wire mesh, 6h/d/21d) and assessed for spatial learning and memory using a radial arm water maze (RAWM) either immediately after stressor cessation (Str-Imm) or following a 21-day post-stress recovery period (Str-Rec). All groups learned the RAWM task similarly, but differed on the memory retention trial. Rats in the Str-Imm group, regardless of viral vector contents, committed more errors in the spatial reference memory domain than did non-stressed controls. Importantly, the typical improvement in spatial memory following recovery from chronic stress was blocked with the siRNA against BDNF, as Str-Rec-siRNA performed worse on the RAWM compared to the non-stressed controls or Str-Rec-Scr. These effects were specific for the reference memory domain as repeated entry errors that reflect spatial working memory were unaffected by stress condition or viral vector contents. These results demonstrate that hippocampal BDNF is necessary for the recovery from stress-induced hippocampal dependent spatial memory deficits in the reference memory domain.

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  • 2013

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Effect of number of food pieces on food selection and consumption in animals and humans

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There are several visual dimensions of food that can affect food intake, example portion size, color, and variety. This dissertation elucidates the effect of number of pieces of food on

There are several visual dimensions of food that can affect food intake, example portion size, color, and variety. This dissertation elucidates the effect of number of pieces of food on preference and amount of food consumed in humans and motivation for food in animals. Chapter 2 Experiment 1 showed that rats preferred and also ran faster for multiple pieces (30, 10 mg pellets) than an equicaloric, single piece of food (300 mg) showing that multiple pieces of food are more rewarding than a single piece. Chapter 2 Experiment 2 showed that rats preferred a 30-pellet food portion clustered together rather than scattered. Preference and motivation for clustered food pieces may be interpreted based on the optimal foraging theory that animals prefer foods that can maximize energy gain and minimize the risk of predation. Chapter 3 Experiment 1 showed that college students preferred and ate less of a multiple-piece than a single-piece portion and also ate less in a test meal following the multiple-piece than single-piece portion. Chapter 3 Experiment 2 replicated the results in Experiment 1 and used a bagel instead of chicken. Chapter 4 showed that college students given a five-piece chicken portion scattered on a plate ate less in a meal and in a subsequent test meal than those given the same portion clustered together. This is consistent with the hypothesis that multiple pieces of food may appear like more food because they take up a larger surface area than a single-piece portion. All together, these studies show that number and surface area occupied by food pieces are important visual cues determining food choice in animals and both food choice and intake in humans.

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  • 2013

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Age related changes in cognition and brain: a focus on progestogens

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Cognitive function declines with normal age and disease states, such as Alzheimer's disease (AD). Loss of ovarian hormones at menopause has been shown to exacerbate age-related memory decline and may

Cognitive function declines with normal age and disease states, such as Alzheimer's disease (AD). Loss of ovarian hormones at menopause has been shown to exacerbate age-related memory decline and may be related to the increased risk of AD in women versus men. Some studies show that hormone therapy (HT) can have beneficial effects on cognition in normal aging and AD, but increasing evidence suggests that the most commonly used HT formulation is not ideal. Work in this dissertation used the surgically menopausal rat to evaluate the cognitive effects and mechanisms of progestogens proscribed to women. I also translated these questions to the clinic, evaluating whether history of HT use impacts hippocampal and entorhinal cortex volumes assessed via imaging, and cognition, in menopausal women. Further, this dissertation investigates how sex impacts responsiveness to dietary interventions in a mouse model of AD. Results indicate that the most commonly used progestogen component of HT, medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA), impairs cognition in the middle-aged and aged surgically menopausal rat. Further, MPA is the sole hormone component of the contraceptive Depo Provera, and my research indicates that MPA administered to young-adult rats leads to long lasting cognitive impairments, evident at middle age. Natural progesterone has been gaining increasing popularity as an alternate option to MPA for HT; however, my findings suggest that progesterone also impairs cognition in the middle-aged and aged surgically menopausal rat, and that the mechanism may be through increased GABAergic activation. This dissertation identified two less commonly used progestogens, norethindrone acetate and levonorgestrel, as potential HTs that could improve cognition in the surgically menopausal rat. Parameters guiding divergent effects on cognition were discovered. In women, prior HT use was associated with larger hippocampal and entorhinal cortex volumes, as well as a modest verbal memory enhancement. Finally, in a model of AD, sex impacts responsiveness to a dietary cognitive intervention, with benefits seen in male, but not female, transgenic mice. These findings have clinical implications, especially since women are at higher risk for AD diagnosis. Together, it is my hope that this information adds to the overarching goal of optimizing cognitive aging in women.

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  • 2012

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On the cognitive impact of endogenous and exogenous hormone exposures across the lifespan

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Women are exposed to numerous endogenous and exogenous hormones across the lifespan. In the last several decades, the prescription of novel hormonal contraceptives and hormone therapies (HTs) have resulted in

Women are exposed to numerous endogenous and exogenous hormones across the lifespan. In the last several decades, the prescription of novel hormonal contraceptives and hormone therapies (HTs) have resulted in aging women that have a unique hormone exposure history; little is known about the impact of these hormone exposures on short- and long- term brain health. The goal of my dissertation was to understand how lifetime hormone exposures shape the female cognitive phenotype using several innovative approaches, including a new human spatial working memory task, the human radial arm maze (HRAM), and several rodent menopause models with variants of clinically used hormone treatments. Using the HRAM (chapter 2) and established human neuropsychological tests, I determined males outperformed females with high endogenous or exogenous estrogen levels on visuospatial tasks and the spatial working memory HRAM (chapter 3). Evaluating the synthetic estrogen in contraceptives, ethinyl estradiol (EE), I found a high EE dose impaired spatial working memory in ovariectomized (Ovx) rats, medium and high EE doses reduced choline-acetyltransferace-immunoreactive neuron population estimates in the basal forebrain following Ovx (chapter 4), and low EE impaired spatial cognition in ovary-intact rats (chapter 5). Assessing the impact of several clinically-used HTs, I identified a window of opportunity around ovarian follicular depletion outside of which the HT conjugated equine estrogens (CEE) was detrimental to spatial memory (chapter 6), as well as therapeutic potentials for synthetic contraceptive hormones (chapter 9) and bioidentical estradiol (chapter 7) during and after the transition to menopause. Chapter 6 and 7 findings, that estradiol and Ovx benefitted cognition after the menopause transition, but CEE did not, are perhaps due to the negative impact of ovarian-produced, androstenedione-derived estrone; indeed, blocking androstenedione’s conversion to estrone prevented its cognitive impairments (chapter 8). Finally, I determined that EE combined with the popular progestin levonorgestrel benefited spatial memory during the transition to menopause, a profile not seen with estradiol, levonorgestrel, or EE alone (chapter 9). This work identifies several cognitively safe, and enhancing, hormonal treatment options at different time points throughout female aging, revealing promising avenues toward optimizing female health.

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  • 2015

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The effects of age, hormone loss, and estrogen treatment on spatial cognition in the rat: parameters and putative mechanisms

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Cognitive function is multidimensional and complex, and research indicates that it is impacted by age, lifetime experience, and ovarian hormone milieu. One particular domain of cognitive function that is susceptible

Cognitive function is multidimensional and complex, and research indicates that it is impacted by age, lifetime experience, and ovarian hormone milieu. One particular domain of cognitive function that is susceptible to age-related decrements is spatial memory. Cognitive practice can affect spatial memory when aged in both males and females, and in females alone ovarian hormones have been found to alter spatial memory via modulating brain microstructure and function in many of the same brain areas affected by aging. The research in this dissertation has implications that promote an understanding of the effects of cognitive practice on aging memory, why males and females respond differently to cognitive practice, and the parameters and mechanisms underlying estrogen's effects on memory. This body of work suggests that cognitive practice can enhance memory when aged and that estrogen is a probable candidate facilitating the observed differences in the effects of cognitive practice depending on sex. This enhancement in cognitive practice effects via estrogen is supported by data demonstrating that estrogen enhances spatial memory and hippocampal synaptic plasticity. The estrogen-facilitated memory enhancements and alterations in hippocampal synaptic plasticity are at least partially facilitated via enhancements in cholinergic signaling from the basal forebrain. Finally, age, dose, and type of estrogen utilized are important factors to consider when evaluating estrogen's effects on memory and its underlying mechanisms, since age alters the responsiveness to estrogen treatment and the dose of estrogen needed, and small alterations in the molecular structure of estrogen can have a profound impact on estrogen's efficacy on memory. Collectively, this dissertation elucidates many parameters that dictate the outcome, and even the direction, of the effects that cognitive practice and estrogens have on cognition during aging. Indeed, many parameters including the ones described here are important considerations when designing future putative behavioral interventions, behavioral therapies, and hormone therapies. Ideally, the parameters described here will be used to help design the next generation of interventions, therapies, and nootropic agents that will allow individuals to maintain their cognitive capacity when aged, above and beyond what is currently possible, thus enacting lasting improvement in women's health and public health in general.

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Date Created
  • 2011

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Variations in Menopause Etiology Affect Cognitive Outcomes: How Age, Menopause Type, and Exogenous Ovarian Hormone Exposures Across the Lifespan Impact the Trajectory of Brain Aging

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Reproductive hormones are recognized for their diverse functions beyond reproduction itself, including a vital role in brain organization, structure, and function throughout the lifespan. From puberty to reproductive senescence, the

Reproductive hormones are recognized for their diverse functions beyond reproduction itself, including a vital role in brain organization, structure, and function throughout the lifespan. From puberty to reproductive senescence, the female is characterized by inherent responsiveness to hormonal cyclicity. For most women, a natural transition to menopause occurs in midlife, wherein the endogenous hormonal milieu undergoes significant changes and marks the end of the reproductive life stage. Although most women experience natural menopause, many women will undergo gynecological surgery during their lifetime, which can lead to an abrupt surgical menopause. It is of critical importance to better understand how endogenous and exogenous reproductive hormone exposures across the lifespan influence cognitive and brain aging, as women are at a greater risk for developing a variety of diseases after menopause, including dementia. Using rodent models, this dissertation explores how the etiology of reproductive senescence, that is, whether it is transitional or surgical, influences the female phenotype to result in divergent cognitive outcomes dependent upon a variety of factors, with an emphasis on age at the time of intervention playing a key role in brain outcomes. Furthermore, the impact of exogenous hormone therapy on cognition is evaluated in the context of surgical menopause. A novel rat model of hysterectomy is also presented, with results demonstrating for the first time that the nonpregnant uterus, which is typically considered to be a quiescent organ, may play a unique, direct role in modulating cognitive outcomes. Neurobiological mechanisms associated with reproductive hormones and aging are assessed to better recognize neural correlates underlying the observed behavior changes. The overarching goal of this dissertation was to elucidate novel factors contributing to cognitive aging outcomes in females. Collectively, the data presented herein indicate that the age at the onset of reproductive senescence has significant implications for learning and memory outcomes, and that variations in gynecological surgery can have unique, long-lasting effects on the brain and cognition. Translationally, this series of experiments moves the field forward toward the goal of improving the health and quality of life for women throughout the lifespan.

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Date Created
  • 2019

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Young Adult and Middle-Age Rats Display Unique Working Memory Impairment and Differential Neurobiological Profiles following Hysterectomy

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Hysterectomy is the second most common gynecological surgery performed in women. Half of these surgeries involve removal of the uterus alone, and half involve concomitant removal of the ovaries. While

Hysterectomy is the second most common gynecological surgery performed in women. Half of these surgeries involve removal of the uterus alone, and half involve concomitant removal of the ovaries. While the field has retained the notion that the nonpregnant uterus is dormant, more recent findings suggest that hysterectomy is associated with cognitive detriment. Of note, the clinical literature suggests that an earlier age at hysterectomy, with or without concomitant ovarian removal, increases dementia risk, implicating age at surgery as a variable of interest. While preclinical work in a rodent model of hysterectomy has demonstrated spatial working memory impairments, the role of age at surgery has yet to be addressed. The current experiment utilized a rodent model of hysterectomy to investigate the importance of age at surgery in post- surgical cognitive outcomes and to evaluate relative protein expression related to brain activity, FosB and ∆FosB, in regions critical to spatial learning processes. Young adult and middle-aged female rats underwent sham surgery, hysterectomy, or hysterectomy with ovariectomy, and were tested on a behavioral battery that evaluated spatial working and reference memory. Following the behavioral battery, animals were sacrificed and brain tissues from the Dorsal Hippocampus and Entorhinal Cortex were processed via Western Blot for relative FosB and ∆FosB expression. Behavioral analyses demonstrated that animals receiving hysterectomy, regardless of age or ovarian status, were generally impaired in learning a complex spatial working memory task. However, rats that received hysterectomy in middle-age uniquely demonstrated persistent working memory impairment, particularly with a high working memory demand. Subsequent neurobiological analyses revealed young rats that underwent hysterectomy had reduced relative FosB expression in the Entorhinal Cortex compared to sham controls, where no significant effects were observed for rats that received surgery in middle-age. Finally, unique relationships between neurobiological and behavioral outcomes were observed largely for sham rats, suggesting that such surgical manipulations might modulate these relationships. Taken together, these findings suggest that age at surgery plays an important role in learning and memory outcomes following hysterectomy, and demonstrate the need for further research into the role of the uterus in communications between the reproductive tract and brain.

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Date Created
  • 2020

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Progestogens impact cognition during the transition to menopause in the rat: dissociation of progestogen- and memory- type

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Progestogens, such as progesterone (P4), medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA), and micronized progesterone (mP4), are given to ovary-intact women during the transition to menopause to attenuate heavy uterine bleeding and other symptoms.

Progestogens, such as progesterone (P4), medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA), and micronized progesterone (mP4), are given to ovary-intact women during the transition to menopause to attenuate heavy uterine bleeding and other symptoms. Both progesterone and MPA administration have been shown to impair cognition in ovariectomized (Ovx) rats compared to vehicle-treated controls. mP4, however, has yet to be investigated for cognitive effects in a preclinical setting. Further, progestogens affect the GABA (-aminobutyric acid) ergic system, specifically glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) the rate limiting enzyme necessary for synthesizing GABA. The goal of this experiment was to investigate the cognitive impact of P4, MPA, and mP4, in an ovary-intact transitional menopause model using 4-vinylcyclohexene diepoxide (VCD) and assess whether these potential changes were related to the GABAergic system. One group of rats received vehicle injections, and the remainder of the groups received VCD to induce follicular depletion, modeling transitional menopause in women. Vehicle or hormone administration began during perimenopause to model the time period when women often take progestogens alone. Rats then underwent testing to assess spatial working and reference memory in the water radial-arm maze (WRAM) and spatial reference memory in the Morris water maze (MWM). Results indicate that P4 and MPA improved learning for working memory measure, but only MPA impaired memory retention in the WRAM. For the WRAM reference memory measure, VCD only treated rats showed impaired learning and memory retention compared to vehicle controls; progestogens did not impact this impairment. Although GAD expression did not differ between treatment groups, in general, there was a relationship between GAD expression and WRAM performance such that rats that tended to have higher GAD levels also tended to make more WRAM working memory errors. Thus, while P4 and MPA have been previously shown to impair cognition in an Ovx model, giving these hormones early in an ovary-intact perimenopause model elicits divergent effects, such that these progestogens can improve cognition. Additionally, these findings suggest that the cognitive changes seen herein are related to the interaction between progestogens and the GABAergic system. Further investigation into progestogens is warranted to fully understand their impact on cognition given the importance of utilizing progestogens in the clinic.

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Date Created
  • 2019