Some reversible brain and behavioral changes from chronic stress

To rattle the rats to the point where their stress response remained demonstrably hyperactive, the researchers exposed the animals to four weeks of varying stressors: moderate electric shocks, being encaged with dominant rats, prolonged dunks in water. Those chronically stressed animals were then compared with nonstressed peers. The stressed rats had no trouble learning a task like pressing a bar to get a food pellet or a squirt of sugar water, but they had difficulty deciding when to stop pressing the bar, as normal rats easily did.

…Happily, the stress-induced changes in behavior and brain appear to be reversible….

But with only four weeks’ vacation in a supportive setting free of bullies and Tasers, the formerly stressed rats looked just like the controls, able to innovate, discriminate and lay off the bar. Atrophied synaptic connections in the decisive regions of the prefrontal cortex resprouted, while the overgrown dendritic vines of the habit-prone sensorimotor striatum retreated.

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If dopamine fails, try glutamate

Happy Labor Day (US)! Topping the NYT most popular articles list right now is an interesting article about a new schizophrenia treatment that targets certain glutamate receptors unlike previous dopaminergic drugs. The drug, which is being developed by Eli Lilly, is partially due to this interesting observation:

For decades, psychiatrists have known that users of PCP, a street drug sometimes called angel dust, have symptoms nearly identical to those of people with schizophrenia. By the 1980s, scientists had discovered that PCP blocked brain receptors that are triggered by an amino acid called glutamate. This led some companies and scientists to study ways to stimulate glutamate receptors as a treatment for schizophrenia.

But the brain has many different kinds of glutamate receptors, and figuring out how to stimulate or block them in medically beneficial ways has proved complicated. Instead of focusing on the receptors blocked by PCP, Dr. Schoepp concentrated on modulating the action of glutamate receptors in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, an area responsible for personality and learning.

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NYTimes article on light-triggered stimulation

“It sounds like a science-fiction version of stupid pet tricks: by toggling a light switch, neuroscientists can set fruit flies a-leaping and mice a-twirling and stop worms in their squiggling tracks. But such feats, unveiled in the past two years, are proof that a new generation of genetic and optical technology can give researchers unprecedented power to turn on and off targeted sets of cells in the brain, and to do so by remote control…”

Reviews the use of photosensitive proteins in neuroscience and even gives a shout-out to Ed Boyden, of Stanford and MIT fame…

— Davie (who had the same advisor as Ed for about a day and is therefore 0.01% more famous by association)