A specific pattern of neuronal firing in a brain reward circuit instantly rendered mice vulnerable to depression-like behavior induced by acute severe stress, a study supported by the National Institutes of Health has found.
When researchers used a high-tech method to mimic the pattern, previously resilient mice instantly succumbed to a depression-like syndrome of social withdrawal and reduced pleasure-seeking – they avoided other animals and lost their sweet tooth. When the firing pattern was inhibited in vulnerable mice, they instantly became resilient.
"For the first time, we have shown that split-second control of specific brain circuitry can switch depression-related behavior on and off with flashes of an LED light," explained Ming-Hu Han, Ph.D., of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City, a grantee of NIH's National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). "These results add to mounting clues about the mechanism of fast-acting antidepressant responses."
Han, Eric Nestler, M.D., Ph.D., of Mount Sinai, and colleagues, report on their study online, Dec. 12, 2012, in the journal Nature.
In a companion article, NIMH grantees Kay Tye, Ph.D., of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass., and Karl Deisseroth, M.D., Ph.D., of Stanford University, Stanford, Calif., used the same cutting-edge technique to control mouse brain activity in real time. Their study reveals that the same reward circuit neuronal activity pattern had the opposite effect when the depression-like behavior was induced by daily presentations of chronic, unpredictable mild physical stressors, instead of by shorter-term exposure to severe social stress.
Prior to the new studies, Han's team suspected that a telltale pattern – rapid firing of neurons that secrete the chemical messenger dopamine in a key circuit hub – makes an animal vulnerable to the depression-like effects of acute severe stress, and that slower firing supports resilience. But they lacked direct, real-time evidence.
To pinpoint cause-and-effect, they turned to a research technology pioneered by Deisseroth, called optogenetics. It melds fiber optics and genetic engineering to precisely control the activity of a specific brain circuit in a living, behaving animal. Genetically modified viruses are used to inject light-reactive proteins, borrowed from primitive organisms like algae, to make the circuitry similarly light-responsive.
The researchers had previously shown that neurons in the reward circuit hub deep in the brain, called the ventral tegmental area (VTA), fire at normal rates in social stress-resilient mice, but at high rates in social stress-susceptible mice. So they embedded an LED-lit optical fiber aimed at the VTA circuitry of genetically modified resilient mice to convert them into susceptible mice by triggering high firing rates.
Normally, it takes 10 days of repeated encounters with a dominant animal – an experimental procedure called social defeat stress – to induce depression-related behaviors. Even after that, some mice emerge seemingly unscathed. But these resilient animals – in which the reward circuit had been genetically modified for optogenetic control – instantly succumbed to a long-lasting depression-like syndrome after light pulses triggered neural activity mimicking the high firing rates seen in the susceptible animals.
In subsequent experiments, using similar optogenetic strategies, the researchers discovered that inhibiting the reward circuit activity pattern in stress-susceptible mice instantly converted them into stress-resilient animals. The reward circuit projects from the VTA to an area in the center front of the brain, called the nucleus accumbens. This study suggests that dopamine neurons firing at high rates in this specific circuit projection encode a signal for susceptibility to depression induced by acute, severe stress. By contrast, a circuit projection from the VTA to the prefrontal cortex, in the top front of the brain (see diagram), was found to serve an opposite function.
Depression in humans often stems from milder stressors over longer periods of time. Tye and Deisseroth used optogenetics to probe reward circuit workings related to depression-like behaviors in rodents exposed to stressors like white noise, crowded housing, or continuous darkness or illumination. Exposure to some of these milder stressors lasted 10 weeks, compared to the 10-days of social defeat stress.
"We sought to mimic gradual, stress-induced transitions to depressed-like states, as are often seen clinically," explained Deisseroth, who is a practicing psychiatrist as well as a neuroscientist.
In contrast to the Han-Nestler results after social defeat stress, following 10 weeks of unpredictable chronic mild stress, optogentically inducing high firing rates in VTA dopamine neurons instantly reversed such depression-like behaviors induced by chronic mild stressors – and vice versa. Also opposite to the social defeat stress findings, optogenetically inhibiting VTA dopamine neurons induced depression-like states.
"The variable effects that stressors of different types induce in the dopamine system may point to the need for distinct treatment strategies for patients whose depressions stem from different types of experiences," said Tye, who is leading a research group studying the neural underpinnings of motivational and emotional processing.
When Tye and Deisseroth infused agents that block binding of the chemical messenger glutatmate in the nucleus accumbens, they produced an antidepressant response – mice struggled more to escape the stressor. They note that this is consistent with the effects of the fast-acting antidepressant ketamine, which similarly blocks glutamate.
While optogenetics is providing insights into rapid antidepressant mechanisms, the technique is not suitable for treatment of depression in humans.
"These stunning demonstrations that depression-like states can literally be switched on and off underscore that context – stressor type and intensity – is pivotal in the workings of the neurons and circuit implicated," said NIMH Director Thomas R. Insel, M.D. "These new, precise circuit breakers are advancing our understanding of how specific brain pathways regulate behavior."
Chaudhury D, Walsh JJ, Friedman AK, Juarez B, Ku SM, Koo JW, Ferguson D, Tsai H-C, Pomeranz L, Christoffel DJ, Nectow AR, Ekstrad M, Domingos A, Mazie-Robison M, Mouzon E, Lobo MK, Neve RL, Friedman JM, Russo SJ, Diesseroth K, Nestler E, Han M-H. Rapid regulation of depression-related behaviors by control of midbrain dopamine neurons. Dec. 12, 2012. Nature.
Tye KM, Mirzabekov JJ, Warden MR, Ferenczi EA, Tsai H-C, Finkelstein J, Kim S-Y, Adhikari A, Thompson KR, Andalman AS, Gunaydin LA, Witten LB, Deisseroth K. Dopamine neurons modulate neural encoding and expression of depression-related behaviour. Dec. 12, 2012. NatureNIH Grants
About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www.nih.gov.
Jules Asher | EurekAlert!
New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)
Reusable carbon nanotubes could be the water filter of the future, says RIT study
30.03.2017 | Rochester Institute of Technology
More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.
Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
28.04.2017 | Event News
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering
28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences
28.04.2017 | Life Sciences