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1.  Environmental Enrichment and Gut Inflammation Modify Stress-Induced c-Fos Expression in the Mouse Corticolimbic System 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e54811.
Environmental enrichment (EE) has a beneficial effect on rodent behaviour, neuronal plasticity and brain function. Although it may also improve stress coping, it is not known whether EE influences the brain response to an external (psychological) stressor such as water avoidance stress (WAS) or an internal (systemic) stressor such as gastrointestinal inflammation. This study hence explored whether EE modifies WAS-induced activation of the mouse corticolimbic system and whether this stress response is altered by gastritis or colitis. Male C67BL/6N mice were housed under standard or enriched environment for 9 weeks, after which they were subjected to a 1-week treatment with oral iodoacetamide to induce gastritis or oral dextran sulfate sodium to induce colitis. Following exposure to WAS the expression of c-Fos, a marker of neuronal activation, was measured by immunocytochemistry. EE aggravated experimentally induced colitis, but not gastritis, as shown by an increase in the disease activity score and the colonic myeloperoxidase content. In the brain, EE enhanced the WAS-induced activation of the dentate gyrus and unmasked an inhibitory effect of gastritis and colitis on WAS-evoked c-Fos expression within this part of the hippocampus. Conversely, EE inhibited the WAS-evoked activation of the central amygdala and prevented the inhibitory effect of gastritis and colitis on WAS-evoked c-Fos expression in this region. EE, in addition, blunted the WAS-induced activation of the infralimbic cortex and attenuated the inhibitory effect of gastritis and colitis on WAS-evoked c-Fos expression in this area. These data reveal that EE has a region-specific effect on stress-induced c-Fos expression in the corticolimbic system, which is likely to improve stress resilience. The response of the prefrontal cortex – amygdala – hippocampus circuitry to psychological stress is also modified by the systemic stress of gut inflammation, and this interaction between external and internal stressors is modulated by the housing environment.
PMCID: PMC3547954  PMID: 23349972
5.  Prolonged Depression-Like Behavior Caused by Immune Challenge: Influence of Mouse Strain and Social Environment 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(6):e20719.
Immune challenge by bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS) causes short-term behavioral changes indicative of depression. The present study sought to explore whether LPS is able to induce long-term changes in depression-related behavior and whether such an effect depends on mouse strain and social context. LPS (0.83 mg/kg) or vehicle was administered intraperitoneally to female CD1 and C57BL/6 mice that were housed singly or in groups of 4. Depression-like behavior was assessed with the forced swim test (FST) 1 and 28 days post-treatment. Group-housed CD1 mice exhibited depression-like behavior 1 day post-LPS, an effect that leveled off during the subsequent 28 days, while the behavior of singly housed CD1 mice was little affected. In contrast, singly housed C57BL/6 mice responded to LPS with an increase in depression-like behavior that was maintained for 4 weeks post-treatment and confirmed by the sucrose preference test. Group-housed C57BL/6 mice likewise displayed an increased depression-like behavior 4 weeks post-treatment. The behavioral changes induced by LPS in C57BL/6 mice were associated with a particularly pronounced rise of interleukin-6 in blood plasma within 1 day post-treatment and with changes in the dynamics of the corticosterone response to the FST. The current data demonstrate that immune challenge with LPS is able to induce prolonged depression-like behavior, an effect that depends on genetic background (strain). The discovery of an experimental model of long-term depression-like behavior after acute immune challenge is of relevance to the analysis of the epigenetic and pathophysiologic mechanisms of immune system-related affective disorders.
PMCID: PMC3108969  PMID: 21673960
8.  Differential effects of intragastric acid and capsaicin on gastric emptying and afferent input to the rat spinal cord and brainstem 
BMC Neuroscience  2005;6:60.
Hydrochloric acid (HCl) is a potential threat to the integrity of the gastric mucosa and is known to contribute to upper abdominal pain. We have previously found that gastric mucosal challenge with excess HCl is signalled to the rat brainstem, but not spinal cord, as visualized by expression of c-fos messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA), a surrogate marker of neuronal excitation. This study examined whether gastric mucosal exposure to capsaicin, a stimulant of nociceptive afferents that does not damage the gastric mucosa, is signalled to both brainstem and spinal cord and whether differences in the afferent signalling of gastric HCl and capsaicin challenge are related to different effects on gastric emptying.
Rats were treated intragastrically with vehicle, HCl or capsaicin, activation of neurons in the brainstem and spinal cord was visualized by in situ hybridization autoradiography for c-fos mRNA, and gastric emptying deduced from the retention of intragastrically administered fluid. Relative to vehicle, HCl (0.5 M) and capsaicin (3.2 mM) increased c-fos transcription in the nucleus tractus solitarii by factors of 7.0 and 2.1, respectively. Capsaicin also caused a 5.2-fold rise of c-fos mRNA expression in lamina I of the caudal thoracic spinal cord, although the number of c-fos mRNA-positive cells in this lamina was very small. Thus, on average only 0.13 and 0.68 c-fos mRNA-positive cells were counted in 0.01 mm sections of the unilateral lamina I following intragastric administration of vehicle and capsaicin, respectively. In contrast, intragastric HCl failed to induce c-fos mRNA in the spinal cord. Measurement of gastric fluid retention revealed that HCl suppressed gastric emptying while capsaicin did not.
The findings of this study show that gastric mucosal exposure to HCl and capsaicin is differentially transmitted to the brainstem and spinal cord. Since only HCl blocks gastric emptying, it is hypothesized that the two stimuli are transduced by different afferent pathways. We infer that HCl is exclusively signalled by gastric vagal afferents whereas capsaicin is processed both by gastric vagal and intestinal spinal afferents.
PMCID: PMC1239919  PMID: 16162281

Results 1-8 (8)