Prefrontal Circuit Selection in Stress and Resilience
Stress is a risk factor for neuropsychiatric disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, yet not all individuals who are exposed to stress develop such disorders. Several factors influence susceptibility versus resilience to the effects of stress, including coping strategy biological sex. A growing body of research in humans has demonstrated that active coping strategies – defined as using available resources to problem solve – are positively correlated with resilience. In rodents, resilience to a potent acute stressor can be achieved through active coping, such as controlling the termination of a stressor, but only in males. During controllable stress males engage a stress mitigating pathway between the prelimbic (PL) and dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN), but this pathway isn’t engaged by control in females or when stress is uncontrollable in both sexes. Thus, neural activity within the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) is a critical determinant of stressor-induced anxiety. The mechanism that engage vmPFC excitability are not well understood. Therefore, the goals of the dissertation were 1) determine if eCBs in the PL promote neuronal excitability and behavioral resilience 2) test if ES and IS result in differential activation PL afferents, and will specifically test if ES results in greater activation PL-inputs from action-outcome associated regions, while IS leads to greater engagement of stress/fear inputs to the PL, and 3) identify network-wide patterns of activation and test the hypothesis that the stress and action-outcome networks are differentially activated as a function of stressor controllability and/or sex. We’ve demonstrated that augmenting eCBs in the PL increased excitability through a CB1 and GABA receptor dependent mechanism and was sufficient to block the stress induced decrease in social exploration. Regarding goal 2, PL inputs from the orbitofrontal cortex and DRN were activated in response to stress per se, but were not sensitive to stressor controllability and did not differ between males and females. PL afferents from the basolateral amygdala and mediodorsally thalamus were not sensitive to stress. Lastly, we quantified Fos expression in response to controllable and uncontrollable stress in male and female rats in 24 brain regions associated with stress, action-outcome learning, and showing sex differences in response to stress. Using interregional correlations, we found differences in functional connectivity as a function of stressor controllability and sex when considering all 24 regions and when considering only stress associated regions. Females showed greater overall functional connectivity compared with males, and IS resulted in greater overall connectivity than ES. We also reveal potentially important nodes in functional connectivity networks using centrality measures to identify network hubs. The findings of this research emphasize the need to study differences between males and females across all realms of neuroscience, particularly in relation to disorders of stress and anxiety.