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Exploring developmental mechanisms and function of Drosophila motoneuron dendrites with targeted genetic manipulation of Dscam

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Specific dendritic morphologies are a hallmark of neuronal identity, circuit assembly, and behaviorally relevant function. Despite the importance of dendrites in brain health and disease, the functional consequences of dendritic shape remain largely unknown. This dissertation addresses two fundamental and

Specific dendritic morphologies are a hallmark of neuronal identity, circuit assembly, and behaviorally relevant function. Despite the importance of dendrites in brain health and disease, the functional consequences of dendritic shape remain largely unknown. This dissertation addresses two fundamental and interrelated aspects of dendrite neurobiology. First, by utilizing the genetic power of Drosophila melanogaster, these studies assess the developmental mechanisms underlying single neuron morphology, and subsequently investigate the functional and behavioral consequences resulting from developmental irregularity. Significant insights into the molecular mechanisms that contribute to dendrite development come from studies of Down syndrome cell adhesion molecule (Dscam). While these findings have been garnered primarily from sensory neurons whose arbors innervate a two-dimensional plane, it is likely that the principles apply in three-dimensional central neurons that provide the structural substrate for synaptic input and neural circuit formation. As such, this dissertation supports the hypothesis that neuron type impacts the realization of Dscam function. In fact, in Drosophila motoneurons, Dscam serves a previously unknown cell-autonomous function in dendrite growth. Dscam manipulations produced a range of dendritic phenotypes with alteration in branch number and length. Subsequent experiments exploited the dendritic alterations produced by Dscam manipulations in order to correlate dendritic structure with the suggested function of these neurons. These data indicate that basic motoneuron function and behavior are maintained even in the absence of all adult dendrites within the same neuron. By contrast, dendrites are required for adjusting motoneuron responses to specific challenging behavioral requirements. Here, I establish a direct link between dendritic structure and neuronal function at the level of the single cell, thus defining the structural substrates necessary for conferring various aspects of functional motor output. Taken together, information gathered from these studies can inform the quest in deciphering how complex cell morphologies and networks form and are precisely linked to their function.

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Date Created
2013

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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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Date Created
2013

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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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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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Date Created
2016

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Brain-derived neurotrophic factor signaling in the mesolimbic dopamine system: social defeat stress-induced cross-sensitization to psychostimulants and escalation of cocaine intake

Description

Intermittent social defeat stress induces cross-sensitization to psychostimulants and escalation of drug self-administration. These behaviors could result from the stress-induced neuroadaptation in the mesocorticolimbic dopamine circuit. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) is persistently elevated after

Intermittent social defeat stress induces cross-sensitization to psychostimulants and escalation of drug self-administration. These behaviors could result from the stress-induced neuroadaptation in the mesocorticolimbic dopamine circuit. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) is persistently elevated after social defeat stress, and may contribute to the stress-induced neuroadaptation in the mesocorticolimbic dopamine circuit. BDNF modulates synaptic plasticity, and facilitates stress- and drug-induced neuroadaptations in the mesocorticolimbic system. The present research examined the role of mesolimbic BDNF signaling in social defeat stress-induced cross-sensitization to psychostimulants and the escalation of cocaine self-administration in rats. We measured drug taking behavior with the acquisition, progressive ratio, and binge paradigms during self-administration. With BDNF overexpression in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), single social defeat stress-induced cross-sensitization to amphetamine (AMPH) was significantly potentiated. VTA-BDNF overexpression also facilitates acquisition of cocaine self-administration, and a positive correlation between the level of VTA BDNF and drug intake during 12 hour binge was observed. We also found significant increase of DeltaFosB expression in the nucleus accumbens (NAc), the projection area of the VTA, in rats received intra-VTA BDNF overexpression. We therefore examined whether BDNF signaling in the NAc is important for social defeat stress-induced cross-sensitization by knockdown of the receptor of BDNF (neurotrophin tyrosine kinase receptor type 2, TrkB) there. NAc TrkB knockdown prevented social defeat stress-induced cross-sensitization to psychostimulant. Also social defeat stress-induced increase of DeltaFosB in the NAc was prevented by TrkB knockdown. Several other factors up-regulated by stress, such as the GluA1 subunit of Alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA) receptor and BDNF in the VTA were also prevented. We conclude that BDNF signaling in the VTA increases social defeat stress-induced vulnerability to psychostimulants, manifested as potentiated cross-sensitization/sensitization to AMPH and escalation of cocaine self-administration. Also BDNF signaling in the NAc is necessary for the stress-induced neuroadaptation and behavioral sensitization to psychostimulants. Therefore, TrkB in the NAc could be a therapeutic target to prevent stress-induced vulnerability to drugs of abuse in the future. DeltaFosB in the NAc shell could be a neural substrate underlying persistent cross-sensitization and augmented cocaine self-administration induced by social defeat stress.

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Date Created
2013

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The role of nucleus accumbens NMDA receptors on rapid, transient synaptic plasticity induced by cued nicotine reinstatement

Description

Nicotine use is an outstanding public health problem with associated social and economic consequences. Nicotine is an active alkaloid compound in tobacco and is recognized as a psychoactive drug. Preclinically, nicotine addiction and relapse can be modeled using a self-administration-reinstatement

Nicotine use is an outstanding public health problem with associated social and economic consequences. Nicotine is an active alkaloid compound in tobacco and is recognized as a psychoactive drug. Preclinically, nicotine addiction and relapse can be modeled using a self-administration-reinstatement paradigm. Here, we used a nicotine self-administration and contingent cue-induced reinstatement model to examine rapid, transient synaptic plasticity (t-SP) induced by nicotine cue-triggered motivation. Although preliminary, treatment with the NMDA GluN2B subunit antagonist, ifenprodil, reduced reinstated nicotine seeking, and increased the percentage of spines with smaller head diameters. Thus, future studies are needed to fully parse out the role of NAcore GluN2B receptors in cued nicotine seeking and t-SP.

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2017-05

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Calcium-mediated excitation and plasticity in primary olfactory pathways of the honey bee antennal lobe

Description

Spatiotemporal processing in the mammalian olfactory bulb (OB), and its analog, the invertebrate antennal lobe (AL), is subject to plasticity driven by biogenic amines. I study plasticity using honey bees, which have been extensively studied with respect to nonassociative and

Spatiotemporal processing in the mammalian olfactory bulb (OB), and its analog, the invertebrate antennal lobe (AL), is subject to plasticity driven by biogenic amines. I study plasticity using honey bees, which have been extensively studied with respect to nonassociative and associative based olfactory learning and memory. Octopamine (OA) release in the AL is the functional analog to epinephrine in the OB. Blockade of OA receptors in the AL blocks plasticity induced changes in behavior. I have now begun to test specific hypotheses related to how this biogenic amine might be involved in plasticity in neural circuits within the AL. OA acts via different receptor subtypes, AmOA1, which gates calcium release from intracellular stores, and AmOA-beta, which results in an increase of cAMP. Calcium also enters AL interneurons via nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, which are driven by acetylcholine release from sensory neuron terminals, as well as through voltage-gated calcium channels. I employ 2-photon excitation (2PE) microscopy using fluorescent calcium indicators to investigate potential sources of plasticity as revealed by calcium fluctuations in AL projection neuron (PN) dendrites in vivo. PNs are analogous to mitral cells in the OB and have dendritic processes that show calcium increases in response to odor stimulation. These calcium signals frequently change after association of odor with appetitive reinforcement. However, it is unclear whether the reported plasticity in calcium signals are due to changes intrinsic to the PNs or to changes in other neural components of the network. My studies were aimed toward understanding the role of OA for establishing associative plasticity in the AL network. Accordingly, I developed a treatment that isolates intact, functioning PNs in vivo. A second study revealed that cAMP is a likely component of plasticity in the AL, thus implicating the AmOA-beta; receptors. Finally, I developed a method for loading calcium indicators into neural components of the AL that have yet to be studied in detail. These manipulations are now revealing the molecular mechanisms contributing to associative plasticity in the AL. These studies will allow for a greater understanding of plasticity in several neural components of the honey bee AL and mammalian OB.

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Date Created
2014

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Neuromodulation of olfactory learning by serotonergic signaling at glomerular synapses reveals a peripheral sensory gating mechanism

Description

Sensory gating is a process by which the nervous system preferentially admits stimuli that are important for the organism while filtering out those that may be meaningless. An optimal sensory gate cannot be static or inflexible, but rather plastic and

Sensory gating is a process by which the nervous system preferentially admits stimuli that are important for the organism while filtering out those that may be meaningless. An optimal sensory gate cannot be static or inflexible, but rather plastic and informed by past experiences. Learning enables sensory gates to recognize stimuli that are emotionally salient and potentially predictive of positive or negative outcomes essential to survival. Olfaction is the only sensory modality in mammals where sensory inputs bypass conventional thalamic gating before entering higher emotional or cognitive brain regions. Thus, olfactory bulb circuits may have a heavier burden of sensory gating compared to other primary sensory circuits. How do the primary synapses in an olfactory system "learn"' in order to optimally gate or filter sensory stimuli? I hypothesize that centrifugal neuromodulator serotonin serves as a signaling mechanism by which primary olfactory circuits can experience learning informed sensory gating. To test my hypothesis, I conditioned genetically-modified mice using reward or fear olfactory-cued learning paradigms and used pharmacological, electrophysiological, immunohistochemical, and optical imaging approaches to assay changes in serotonin signaling or functional changes in primary olfactory circuits. My results indicate serotonin is a key mediator in the acquisition of olfactory fear memories through the activation of its type 2A receptors in the olfactory bulb. Functionally within the first synaptic relay of olfactory glomeruli, serotonin type 2A receptor activation decreases excitatory glutamatergic drive of olfactory sensory neurons through both presynaptic and postsynaptic mechanisms. I propose that serotonergic signaling decreases excitatory drive, thereby disconnecting olfactory sensory neurons from odor responses once information is learned and its behavioral significance is consolidated. I found that learning induced chronic changes in the density of serotonin fibers and receptors, which persisted in glomeruli encoding the conditioning odor. Such persistent changes could represent a sensory gate stabilized by memory. I hypothesize this ensures that the glomerulus encoding meaningful odors are much more sensitive to future serotonin signaling as such arousal cues arrive from centrifugal pathways originating in the dorsal raphe nucleus. The results advocate that a simple associative memory trace can be formed at primary sensory synapses to facilitate optimal sensory gating in mammalian olfaction.

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Date Created
2012

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The dissection of signaling cascades in neural stem cell proliferation & GBM promotion

Description

Cells live in complex environments and must be able to adapt to environmental changes in order to survive. The ability of a cell to survive and thrive in a changing environment depends largely on its ability to receive and respond

Cells live in complex environments and must be able to adapt to environmental changes in order to survive. The ability of a cell to survive and thrive in a changing environment depends largely on its ability to receive and respond to extracellular signals. Initiating with receptors, signal transduction cascades begin translating extracellular signals into intracellular messages. Such signaling cascades are responsible for the regulation of cellular metabolism, cell growth, cell movement, transcription, translation, proliferation and differentiation. This dissertation seeks to dissect and examine critical signaling pathways involved in the regulation of proliferation in neural stem cells (Chapter 2) and the regulation of Glioblastoma Multiforme pathogenesis (GBM; Chapter 3). In Chapter 2 of this dissertation, we hypothesize that the mTOR signaling pathway plays a significant role in the determination of neural stem cell proliferation given its control of cell growth, metabolism and survival. We describe the effect of inhibition of mTOR signaling on neural stem cell proliferation using animal models of aging. Our results show that the molecular method of targeted inhibition may result in differential effects on neural stem cell proliferation as the use of rapamycin significantly reduced proliferation while the use of metformin did not. Abnormal signaling cascades resulting in unrestricted proliferation may lead to the development of brain cancer, such as GBM. In Chapter 3 of this dissertation, we hypothesize that the inhibition of the protein kinase, aPKCλ results in halted GBM progression (invasion and proliferation) due to its central location in multiple signaling cascades. Using in-vitro and in-vivo models, we show that aPKCλ functions as a critical node in GBM signaling as both cell-autonomous and non-cell-autonomous signaling converge on aPKCλ resulting in pathogenic downstream effects. This dissertation aims to uncover the molecular mechanisms involved in cell signaling pathways which are responsible for critical cellular effects such as proliferation, invasion and transcriptional regulation.

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Date Created
2014

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Practical therapies for diffuse traumatic brain injury in the mouse: translational considerations

Description

Approximately 2.8 million Americans seek medical care for traumatic brain injury (TBI) each year. Of this population, the majority are sufferers of diffuse TBI, or concussion. It is unknown how many more individuals decline to seek medical care following mild

Approximately 2.8 million Americans seek medical care for traumatic brain injury (TBI) each year. Of this population, the majority are sufferers of diffuse TBI, or concussion. It is unknown how many more individuals decline to seek medical care following mild TBI. This likely sizeable population of un- or self-treated individuals combined with a lack of definitive biomarkers or objective post-injury diagnostics creates a unique need for practical therapies among diffuse TBI sufferers. Practical therapies stand to decrease the burden of TBI among those who would otherwise not seek treatment or do not meet clinical diagnostic criteria upon examination. For this unique treatment niche, practical therapies for TBI are defined as having one or more of the following qualities: common availability, easy administration, excellent safety profile, and cost-effectiveness. This dissertation identifies and critically examines the efficacy of four classes of practical treatments in improving rodent outcome from experimental diffuse traumatic brain injury.

Over-the-counter (OTC) analgesics, omega-3 fatty acids, specialized pro-resolving mediators (SPMs), and remote ischemic conditioning (RIC) were administered before or following midline fluid percussion injury. Behavioral, histological, and molecular analyses were used to assess treatment effects on functional outcome and secondary injury progression. Acute administration of common OTC analgesics had little effect on post-injury outcome in mice. Dietary supplementation with omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) prior to or following diffuse TBI significantly reduced injury-induced sensory sensitivity and markers of neuroinflammation with no effect on spatial learning. Intraperitoneal administration of omega-3 fatty acid-derived SPM resolvin E1 significantly increased post-injury sleep and suppressed microglial activation. Aspirin-triggered (AT) resolvin D1 administration improved both motor and cognitive outcome following diffuse TBI. RIC treatment in mice demonstrated little effect on functional outcome from diffuse TBI. Untargeted proteomic analysis of plasma samples from RIC-treated mice was used to identify candidate molecular correlates of RIC. Identification of these candidates represents a vital first step in elucidating the neuroprotective mechanisms underlying RIC. The overall findings suggest that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation, SPM administration, and RIC may serve as effective practical therapies to reduce the somatic, cognitive, and neurological burden of diffuse TBI felt by millions of Americans.

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Date Created
2017