Doctor of Philosophy, National Centre for Biological Sciences (2010)
Jennifer Raymond, Postdoctoral Faculty Sponsor
Our understanding of the rules that determine which synapses change during learning is still very limited. Since most of the synapses in a circuit are capable of plasticity, a given neural circuit has the potential to be modified in many different ways. What controls the recruitment of plasticity at one set of synapses versus another during a given learning experience? This overarching question is the focus of my research. Using single-cell patch-clamp recordings from cerebellar slice preparations, I am investigating what rules determine when and how synapses change during different types of motor learning.
The fact that exposure to severe stress leads to the development of psychiatric disorders serves as the basic rationale for animal models of stress disorders. Clinical and neuroimaging studies have shown that three brain areas involved in learning and memory-the hippocampus, amygdala and prefrontal cortex-undergo distinct structural and functional changes in individuals with stress disorders. These findings from patient studies pose several challenges for animal models of stress disorders. For instance, why does stress impair cognitive function, yet enhance fear and anxiety? Can the same stressful experience elicit contrasting patterns of plasticity in the hippocampus, amygdala and prefrontal cortex? How does even a brief exposure to traumatic stress lead to long-lasting behavioral abnormalities? Thus, animal models of stress disorders must not only capture the unique spatio-temporal features of structural and functional alterations in these brain areas, but must also provide insights into the underlying neuronal plasticity mechanisms. This Review will address some of these key questions by describing findings from animal models on how stress-induced plasticity varies across different brain regions and thereby gives rise to the debilitating emotional and cognitive symptoms of stress-related psychiatric disorders.
View details for DOI 10.1038/nn.4115
View details for PubMedID 26404711
Prolonged and severe stress leads to cognitive deficits, but facilitates emotional behaviour. Little is known about the synaptic basis for this contrast. Here, we report that in rats subjected to chronic immobilization stress, long-term potentiation (LTP) and NMDA receptor (NMDAR)-mediated synaptic responses are enhanced in principal neurons of the lateral amygdala, a brain area involved in fear memory formation. This is accompanied by electrophysiological and morphological changes consistent with the formation of 'silent synapses', containing only NMDARs. In parallel, chronic stress also reduces synaptic inhibition. Together, these synaptic changes would enable amygdalar neurons to undergo further experience-dependent modifications, leading to stronger fear memories. Consistent with this prediction, stressed animals exhibit enhanced conditioned fear. Hence, stress may leave its mark in the amygdala by generating new synapses with greater capacity for plasticity, thereby creating an ideal neuronal substrate for affective disorders. These findings also highlight the unique features of stress-induced plasticity in the amygdala that are strikingly different from the stress-induced impairment of structure and function in the hippocampus.
View details for DOI 10.1098/rstb.2013.0151
View details for PubMedID 24298153
Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is the most commonly inherited form of mental impairment and autism. Current understanding of the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying FXS symptoms is derived mainly from studies on the hippocampus and cortex. However, FXS is also associated with strong emotional symptoms, which are likely to involve changes in the amygdala. Unfortunately, the synaptic basis of amygdalar dysfunction in FXS remains largely unexplored. Here we describe recent findings from mouse models of FXS that have identified synaptic defects in the basolateral amygdala that are in many respects distinct from those reported earlier in the hippocampus. Long-term potentiation and surface expression of AMPA-receptors are impaired. Further, presynaptic defects are seen at both excitatory and inhibitory synapses. Remarkably, some of these synaptic defects in the amygdala are also amenable to pharmacological rescue. These results also underscore the need to modify the current hippocampus-centric framework to better explain FXS-related synaptic dysfunction in the amygdala.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.conb.2011.04.005
View details for Web of Science ID 000294097100021
View details for PubMedID 21555214
Stress and depression may share common neural plasticity mechanisms. Importantly, the development and reversal of stress-induced plasticity requires time. These temporal aspects, however, are not captured fully in the forced-swim test (FST), a behavioural model for testing antidepressant efficacy, used originally in naïve animals. The present study probed whether and how a rodent model of stress affects behaviour in the FST over time. We found that the intensity and duration of stress are critical in the development of depressive symptoms in male Wistar rats (n = 37) as tested in the FST. Chronic immobilization stress (2 h/day for 10 days) elicited a range of responses, from low to high values of immobility in the FST on day 1, and subsequent immobility on day 2 was inversely related to individual day 1 values. As a whole, chronically stressed rats did not exhibit any significant change in immobility either on day 1 or day 2 compared to control rats. However, climbing behaviour was reduced uniformly from day 1 to day 2, despite the differences in immobility. In contrast, a separate group of rats (n = 30) subjected to the same chronic stressor displayed a significant reduction in open-arm exploration in the elevated plus maze, indicative of a robust increase in anxiety-like behaviour. Furthermore, when the 10-day chronic stress paradigm was reduced to a single 2-h episode of immobilization stress, it triggered a uniform day 1 to day 2 increase in immobility, which was not persistent 10 days later. These results highlight a need for closer examination of the ways in which stress-induced modulation of behaviour in the FST may be used and interpreted in future studies aimed at exploring connections between stress and depression.
View details for DOI 10.3109/10253890.2010.489978
View details for Web of Science ID 000283063300009
View details for PubMedID 20666651
Fragile X syndrome (FXS), a common inherited form of mental impairment and autism, is caused by transcriptional silencing of the fragile X mental retardation 1 (FMR1) gene. Earlier studies have identified a role for aberrant synaptic plasticity mediated by the metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) in FXS. However, many of these observations are derived primarily from studies in the hippocampus. The strong emotional symptoms of FXS, on the other hand, are likely to involve the amygdala. Unfortunately, little is known about how exactly FXS affects synaptic function in the amygdala. Here, using whole-cell recordings in brain slices from adult Fmr1 knockout mice, we find mGluR-dependent long-term potentiation to be impaired at thalamic inputs to principal neurons in the lateral amygdala. Consistent with this long-term potentiation deficit, surface expression of the AMPA receptor subunit, GluR1, is reduced in the lateral amygdala of knockout mice. In addition to these postsynaptic deficits, lower presynaptic release was manifested by a decrease in the frequency of spontaneous miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents (mEPSCs), increased paired-pulse ratio, and slower use-dependent block of NMDA receptor currents. Strikingly, pharmacological inactivation of mGluR5 with 2-methyl-6-phenylethynyl-pyridine (MPEP) fails to rescue either the deficit in long-term potentiation or surface GluR1. However, the same acute MPEP treatment reverses the decrease in mEPSC frequency, a finding of potential therapeutic relevance. Therefore, our results suggest that synaptic defects in the amygdala of knockout mice are still amenable to pharmacological interventions against mGluR5, albeit in a manner not envisioned in the original hippocampal framework.
View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.1002262107
View details for Web of Science ID 000279058000078
View details for PubMedID 20534533