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Navigating to new frontiers in behavioral neuroscience: traditional neuropsychological tests predict human performance on a rodent-inspired radial-arm maze

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We constructed an 11-arm, walk-through, human radial-arm maze (HRAM) as a translational instrument to compare existing methodology in the areas of rodent and human learning and memory research. The HRAM,

We constructed an 11-arm, walk-through, human radial-arm maze (HRAM) as a translational instrument to compare existing methodology in the areas of rodent and human learning and memory research. The HRAM, utilized here, serves as an intermediary test between the classic rat radial-arm maze (RAM) and standard human neuropsychological and cognitive tests. We show that the HRAM is a useful instrument to examine working memory ability, explore the relationships between rodent and human memory and cognition models, and evaluate factors that contribute to human navigational ability. One-hundred-and-fifty-seven participants were tested on the HRAM, and scores were compared to performance on a standard cognitive battery focused on episodic memory, working memory capacity, and visuospatial ability. We found that errors on the HRAM increased as working memory demand became elevated, similar to the pattern typically seen in rodents, and that for this task, performance appears similar to Miller's classic description of a processing-inclusive human working memory capacity of 7 ± 2 items. Regression analysis revealed that measures of working memory capacity and visuospatial ability accounted for a large proportion of variance in HRAM scores, while measures of episodic memory and general intelligence did not serve as significant predictors of HRAM performance. We present the HRAM as a novel instrument for measuring navigational behavior in humans, as is traditionally done in basic science studies evaluating rodent learning and memory, thus providing a useful tool to help connect and translate between human and rodent models of cognitive functioning.

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Date Created
  • 2014-09-09

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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

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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Date Created
  • 2013