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The effects of housing conditions and methylphenidate on two volitional inhibition tasks

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The failure to withhold inappropriate behavior is a central component of most impulse control disorders, including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The present study examined the effects of housing environment and methylphenidate (a drug often prescribed for ADHD) on the

The failure to withhold inappropriate behavior is a central component of most impulse control disorders, including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The present study examined the effects of housing environment and methylphenidate (a drug often prescribed for ADHD) on the performance of rats in two response inhibition tasks: differential reinforcement of low rate (DRL) and fixed minimum interval (FMI). Both tasks required rats to wait a fixed amount of time (6 s) before emitting a reinforced response. The capacity to withhold the target response (volitional inhibition) and timing precision were estimated on the basis of performance in each of the tasks. Paradoxically, rats housed in a mildly enriched environment that included a conspecific displayed less volitional inhibition in both tasks compared to rats housed in an isolated environment. Enriched housing, however, increased timing precision. Acute administration of methylphenidate partially reversed the effects of enriched housing. Implications of these results in the assessment and treatment of ADHD-related impulsivity are discussed.

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2011

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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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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 be related to the increased risk of AD in women

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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The effects of maternal separation on adult methamphetamine self-administration: extinction, reinstatement, and MeCP2 immunoreactivity in the nucleus accumbens

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The maternal separation (MS) paradigm is an animal model of early life stress. Animals subjected to MS during the first two weeks of life display altered behavioral and neuroendocrinological stress responses as adults. MS also produces altered responsiveness to and

The maternal separation (MS) paradigm is an animal model of early life stress. Animals subjected to MS during the first two weeks of life display altered behavioral and neuroendocrinological stress responses as adults. MS also produces altered responsiveness to and self-administration (SA) of various drugs of abuse including cocaine, ethanol, opioids, and amphetamine. Methamphetamine (METH) causes great harm to both the individual user and to society; yet, no studies have examined the effects of MS on METH SA. This study was performed to examine the effects of MS on the acquisition of METH SA, extinction, and reinstatement of METH-seeking behavior in adulthood. Given the known influence of early life stress and drug exposure on epigenetic processes, group differences in levels of the epigenetic marker methyl CpG binding protein 2 (MeCP2) in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) core were also investigated. Long-Evans pups and dams were separated on postnatal days (PND) 2-14 for either 180 (MS180) or 15 min (MS15). Male offspring were allowed to acquire METH SA (0.05 mg/kg/infusion) in 15 2-hr daily sessions starting at PND67, followed by extinction training and cue-induced reinstatement of METH-seeking behavior. Rats were then assessed for MeCP2 levels in the NAc core by immunohistochemistry. The MS180 group self-administered significantly more METH and acquired SA earlier than the MS15 group. No group differences in extinction or cue-induced reinstatement were observed. MS15 rats had significantly elevated MeCP2-immunoreactive cells in the NAc core as compared to MS180 rats. Together, these data suggest that MS has lasting influences on METH SA as well as epigenetic processes in the brain reward circuitry.

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2013

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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 function, would alter the recovery from chronic stress-induced spatial memory

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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The temporal organization of operant behavior: a response bout analysis

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Many behaviors are organized into bouts – brief periods of responding punctuated by pauses. This dissertation examines the operant bouts of the lever pressing rat. Chapter 1 provides a brief history of operant response bout analyses. Chapters 2, 3, 5,

Many behaviors are organized into bouts – brief periods of responding punctuated by pauses. This dissertation examines the operant bouts of the lever pressing rat. Chapter 1 provides a brief history of operant response bout analyses. Chapters 2, 3, 5, and 6 develop new probabilistic models to identify changes in response bout parameters. The parameters of those models are demonstrated to be uniquely sensitive to different experimental manipulations, such as food deprivation (Chapters 2 and 4), response requirements (Chapters 2, 4, and 5), and reinforcer availability (Chapters 2 and 3). Chapter 6 reveals the response bout parameters that underlie the operant hyperactivity of a common rodent model of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the spontaneously hypertensive rat (SHR). Chapter 6 then ameliorates the SHR’s operant hyperactivity using training procedures developed from findings in Chapters 2 and 4. Collectively, this dissertation provides new tools for the assessment of response bouts and demonstrates their utility for discerning differences between experimental preparations and animal strains that may be otherwise indistinguishable with more primitive methods.

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2015

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The epigenome: possible mechanisms by which early life stress may prime vulnerability towards substance use disorder

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Evidence from the 20th century demonstrated that early life stress (ELS) produces long lasting neuroendocrine and behavioral effects related to an increased vulnerability towards psychiatric illnesses such as major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, and substance use disorder. Substance

Evidence from the 20th century demonstrated that early life stress (ELS) produces long lasting neuroendocrine and behavioral effects related to an increased vulnerability towards psychiatric illnesses such as major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, and substance use disorder. Substance use disorders (SUDs) are complex neurological and behavioral psychiatric illnesses. The development, maintenance, and relapse of SUDs involve multiple brain systems and are affected by many variables, including socio-economic and genetic factors. Pre-clinical studies demonstrate that ELS affects many of the same systems, such as the reward circuitry and executive function involved with addiction-like behaviors. Previous research has focused on cocaine, ethanol, opiates, and amphetamine, while few studies have investigated ELS and methamphetamine (METH) vulnerability. METH is a highly addictive psychostimulant that when abused, has deleterious effects on the user and society. However, a critical unanswered question remains; how do early life experiences modulate both neural systems and behavior in adulthood? The emerging field of neuroepigenetics provides a potential answer to this question. Methyl CpG binding protein 2 (MeCP2), an epigenetic tag, has emerged as one possible mediator between initial drug use and the transition to addiction. Additionally, there are various neural systems that undergo long lasting epigenetics changes after ELS, such as the response of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis to stressors. Despite this, little attention has been given to the interactions between ELS, epigenetics, and addiction vulnerability. The studies described herein investigated the effects of ELS on METH self-administration (SA) in adult male rats. Next, we investigated the effects of ELS and METH SA on MeCP2 expression in the nucleus accumbens and dorsal striatum. Additionally, we investigated the effects of virally-mediated knockdown of MeCP2 expression in the nucleus accumbens core on METH SA, motivation to obtain METH under conditions of increasing behavioral demand, and reinstatement of METH-seeking in rats with and without a history of ELS. The results of these studies provide insights into potential epigenetic mechanisms by which ELS can produce an increased vulnerability to addiction in adulthood. Moreover, these studies shed light on possible novel molecular targets for treating addiction in individuals with a history of ELS.

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2015

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The role of the serotonin 2 family of receptors in cocaine-elicited and cocaine-conditioned behaviors

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5-HT2A receptor (R) antagonists and 5-HT2CR agonists attenuate reinstatement of cocaine-seeking behavior (i.e., incentive motivation). 5-HT2Rs are distributed throughout the brain, primarily in regions involved in reward circuitry, including the prefrontal cortex (PFC), caudate putamen (CPu), and basolateral (BlA) and

5-HT2A receptor (R) antagonists and 5-HT2CR agonists attenuate reinstatement of cocaine-seeking behavior (i.e., incentive motivation). 5-HT2Rs are distributed throughout the brain, primarily in regions involved in reward circuitry, including the prefrontal cortex (PFC), caudate putamen (CPu), and basolateral (BlA) and central (CeA) amygdala. Using animal models, we tested our hypotheses that 5-HT2ARs in the medial (m) PFC mediate the incentive motivational effects of cocaine and cocaine-paired cues; 5-HT2ARs and 5-HT2CRs interact to attenuate cocaine hyperlocomotion and functional neuronal activation (i.e, Fos protein); and 5-HT2CRs in the BlA mediate the incentive motivational effects of cocaine-paired cues and anxiety-like behavior, while 5-HT2CRs in the CeA mediate the incentive motivational effects of cocaine. In chapter 2, we infused M100907, a selective 5-HT2AR antagonist, directly into the mPFC and examined its effects on reinstatement of cocaine-seeking behavior. We found that M100907 in the mPFC dose- dependently attenuated cue-primed reinstatement, without affecting cocaine-primed reinstatement, cue-primed reinstatement of sucrose-seeking behavior, or locomotor activity. In chapter 3, we used subthreshold doses of M100907 and MK212, a 5-HT2CR agonist, to investigate whether these compounds interact to attenuate cocaine hyperlocomotion and Fos protein expression. Only the drug combination attenuated cocaine hyperlocomotion and cocaine-induced Fos expression in the CPu, but had no effect on spontaneous locomotion. Finally, in chapter 4 we investigated the effects of a 5- HT2CR agonist in the BlA and CeA on cocaine-seeking behavior and anxiety-like behavior. We found that CP809101, a selective 5-HT2CR agonist, infused into the BlA increased anxiety-like behavior on the elevated plus maze (EPM), but failed to alter cocaine-seeking behavior. CP809101 infused into the CeA attenuated cocaine-primed reinstatement and this effect was blocked by co-administration of a 5-HT2CR antagonist. Together, these results suggest that 5-HT2ARs in the mPFC are involved in cue-primed reinstatement, 5-HT2A and 5-HT2CRs may interact in the nigrostriatal pathway to attenuate cocaine hyperlocomotion and Fos expression, and 5-HT2CRs are involved in anxiety-like behavior in the BlA and cocaine-primed reinstatement in the CeA. Our findings add to the literature on the localization of 5-HT2AR antagonist and 5-HT2CR agonist effects, and suggest a potential treatment mechanism via concurrent 5-HT2AR antagonism and 5-HT2CR agonism.

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2013

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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 to age-related decrements is spatial memory. Cognitive practice can affect

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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2011

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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