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1.  Environmental Enrichment Alters Splenic Immune Cell Composition and Enhances Secondary Influenza Vaccine Responses in Mice 
Molecular Medicine  2014;20(1):179-190.
Chronic stress has deleterious effects on immune function, which can lead to adverse health outcomes. However, studies investigating the impact of stress reduction interventions on immunity in clinical research have yielded divergent results, potentially stemming from differences in study design and genetic heterogeneity, among other clinical research challenges. To test the hypothesis that reducing glucocorticoid levels enhances certain immune functions, we administered influenza vaccine once (prime) or twice (boost) to mice housed in either standard control caging or environmental enrichment (EE) caging. We have shown that this approach reduces mouse corticosterone production. Compared with controls, EE mice had significantly lower levels of fecal corticosterone metabolites (FCMs) and increased splenic B and T lymphocyte numbers. Corticosterone levels were negatively associated with the numbers of CD19+ (r2 = 0.43, p = 0.0017), CD4+ (r2 = 0.28, p = 0.0154) and CD8+ cells (r2 = 0.20, p = 0.0503). Vaccinated mice showed nonsignificant differences in immunoglobulin G (IgG) titer between caging groups, although EE mice tended to exhibit larger increases in titer from prime to boost than controls; the interaction between the caging group (control versus EE) and vaccine group (prime versus boost) showed a strong statistical trend (cage-group*vaccine-group, F = 4.27, p = 0.0555), suggesting that there may be distinct effects of EE caging on primary versus secondary IgG vaccine responses. Vaccine-stimulated splenocytes from boosted EE mice had a significantly greater frequency of interleukin 5 (IL-5)-secreting cells than boosted controls (mean difference 7.7, IL-5 spot-forming units/106 splenocytes, 95% confidence interval 0.24–135.1, p = 0.0493) and showed a greater increase in the frequency of IL-5–secreting cells from prime to boost. Our results suggest that corticosterone reduction via EE caging was associated with enhanced secondary vaccine responses, but had little effect on primary responses in mice. These findings help identify differences in primary and secondary vaccine responses in relationship to stress mediators that may be relevant in clinical studies.
PMCID: PMC4002849  PMID: 24687160
2.  Brain Responses to High-Protein Diets12 
Advances in Nutrition  2012;3(3):322-329.
Proteins are suspected to have a greater satiating effect than the other 2 macronutrients. After protein consumption, peptide hormones released from the gastrointestinal tract (mainly anorexigenic gut peptides such as cholecystokinin, glucagon peptide 1, and peptide YY) communicate information about the energy status to the brain. These hormones and vagal afferents control food intake by acting on brain regions involved in energy homeostasis such as the brainstem and the hypothalamus. In fact, a high-protein diet leads to greater activation than a normal-protein diet in the nucleus tractus solitarius and in the arcuate nucleus. More specifically, neural mechanisms triggered particularly by leucine consumption involve 2 cellular energy sensors: the mammalian target of rapamycin and AMP-activated protein kinase. In addition, reward and motivation aspects of eating behavior, controlled mainly by neurons present in limbic regions, play an important role in the reduced hedonic response of a high-protein diet. This review examines how metabolic signals emanating from the gastrointestinal tract after protein ingestion target the brain to control feeding, energy expenditure, and hormones. Understanding the functional roles of brain areas involved in the satiating effect of proteins and their interactions will demonstrate how homeostasis and reward are integrated with the signals from peripheral organs after protein consumption.
PMCID: PMC3649463  PMID: 22585905
3.  The Calm Mouse: An Animal Model of Stress Reduction 
Molecular Medicine  2012;18(1):606-617.
Chronic stress is associated with negative health outcomes and is linked with neuroendocrine changes, deleterious effects on innate and adaptive immunity, and central nervous system neuropathology. Although stress management is commonly advocated clinically, there is insufficient mechanistic understanding of how decreasing stress affects disease pathogenesis. Therefore, we have developed a “calm mouse model” with caging enhancements designed to reduce murine stress. Male BALB/c mice were divided into four groups: control (Cntl), standard caging; calm (Calm), large caging to reduce animal density, a cardboard nest box for shelter, paper nesting material to promote innate nesting behavior, and a polycarbonate tube to mimic tunneling; control exercise (Cntl Ex), standard caging with a running wheel, known to reduce stress; and calm exercise (Calm Ex), calm caging with a running wheel. Calm, Cntl Ex and Calm Ex animals exhibited significantly less corticosterone production than Cntl animals. We also observed changes in spleen mass, and in vitro splenocyte studies demonstrated that Calm Ex animals had innate and adaptive immune responses that were more sensitive to acute handling stress than those in Cntl. Calm animals gained greater body mass than Cntl, although they had similar food intake, and we also observed changes in body composition, using magnetic resonance imaging. Together, our results suggest that the Calm mouse model represents a promising approach to studying the biological effects of stress reduction in the context of health and in conjunction with existing disease models.
PMCID: PMC3388136  PMID: 22398685
4.  Three-Dimensional Macronutrient-Associated Fos Expression Patterns in the Mouse Brainstem 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(2):e8974.
The caudal brainstem plays an important role in short-term satiation and in the control of meal termination. Meal-related stimuli sensed by the gastrointestinal (GI) tract are transmitted to the area postrema (AP) via the bloodstream, or to the nucleus tractus solitarii (NTS) via the vagus nerve. Little is known about the encoding of macronutrient-specific signals in the caudal brainstem. We hypothesized that sucrose and casein peptone activate spatially distinct sub-populations of NTS neurons and thus characterized the latter using statistical three-dimensional modeling.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Using immunolabeling of the proto-oncogene Fos as a marker of neuronal activity, in combination with a statistical three-dimensional modeling approach, we have shown that NTS neurons activated by sucrose or peptone gavage occupy distinct, although partially overlapping, positions. Specifically, when compared to their homologues in peptone-treated mice, three-dimensional models calculated from neuronal density maps following sucrose gavage showed that Fos-positive neurons occupy a more lateral position at the rostral end of the NTS, and a more dorsal position at the caudal end.
To our knowledge, this is the first time that subpopulations of NTS neurons have be distinguished according to the spatial organization of their functional response. Such neuronal activity patterns may be of particular relevance to understanding the mechanisms that support the central encoding of signals related to the presence of macronutrients in the GI tract during digestion. Finally, this finding also illustrates the usefulness of statistical three-dimensional modeling to functional neuroanatomical studies.
PMCID: PMC2813867  PMID: 20126542

Results 1-4 (4)