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1.  Nucleus accumbens corticotropin-releasing factor increases cue-triggered motivation for sucrose reward: paradoxical positive incentive effects in stress? 
BMC Biology  2006;4:8.
Corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) is typically considered to mediate aversive aspects of stress, fear and anxiety. However, CRF release in the brain is also elicited by natural rewards and incentive cues, raising the possibility that some CRF systems in the brain mediate an independent function of positive incentive motivation, such as amplifying incentive salience. Here we asked whether activation of a limbic CRF subsystem magnifies the increase in positive motivation for reward elicited by incentive cues previously associated with that reward, in a way that might exacerbate cue-triggered binge pursuit of food or other incentives? We assessed the impact of CRF microinjections into the medial shell of nucleus accumbens using a pure incentive version of Pavlovian-Instrumental transfer, a measure specifically sensitive to the incentive salience of reward cues (which it separates from influences of aversive stress, stress reduction, frustration and other traditional explanations for stress-increased behavior). Rats were first trained to press one of two levers to obtain sucrose pellets, and then separately conditioned to associate a Pavlovian cue with free sucrose pellets. On test days, rats received microinjections of vehicle, CRF (250 or 500 ng/0.2 μl) or amphetamine (20 μg/0.2 μl). Lever pressing was assessed in the presence or absence of the Pavlovian cues during a half-hour test.
Microinjections of the highest dose of CRF (500 ng) or amphetamine (20 μg) selectively enhanced the ability of Pavlovian reward cues to trigger phasic peaks of increased instrumental performance for a sucrose reward, each peak lasting a minute or so before decaying after the cue. Lever pressing was not enhanced by CRF microinjections in the baseline absence of the Pavlovian cue or during the presentation without a cue, showing that the CRF enhancement could not be explained as a result of generalized motor arousal, frustration or stress, or by persistent attempts to ameliorate aversive states.
We conclude that CRF in nucleus accumbens shell amplifies positive motivation for cued rewards, in particular by magnifying incentive salience that is attributed to Pavlovian cues previously associated with those rewards. CRF-induced magnification of incentive salience provides a novel explanation as to why stress may produce cue-triggered bursts of binge eating, drug addiction relapse, or other excessive pursuits of rewards.
PMCID: PMC1459217  PMID: 16613600
2.  Sequential super-stereotypy of an instinctive fixed action pattern in hyper-dopaminergic mutant mice: a model of obsessive compulsive disorder and Tourette's 
BMC Biology  2005;3:4.
Excessive sequential stereotypy of behavioral patterns (sequential super-stereotypy) in Tourette's syndrome and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is thought to involve dysfunction in nigrostriatal dopamine systems. In sequential super-stereotypy, patients become trapped in overly rigid sequential patterns of action, language, or thought. Some instinctive behavioral patterns of animals, such as the syntactic grooming chain pattern of rodents, have sufficiently complex and stereotyped serial structure to detect potential production of overly-rigid sequential patterns. A syntactic grooming chain is a fixed action pattern that serially links up to 25 grooming movements into 4 predictable phases that follow 1 syntactic rule. New mutant mouse models allow gene-based manipulation of brain function relevant to sequential patterns, but no current animal model of spontaneous OCD-like behaviors has so far been reported to exhibit sequential super-stereotypy in the sense of a whole complex serial pattern that becomes stronger and excessively rigid. Here we used a hyper-dopaminergic mutant mouse to examine whether an OCD-like behavioral sequence in animals shows sequential super-stereotypy. Knockdown mutation of the dopamine transporter gene (DAT) causes extracellular dopamine levels in the neostriatum of these adult mutant mice to rise to 170% of wild-type control levels.
We found that the serial pattern of this instinctive behavioral sequence becomes strengthened as an entire entity in hyper-dopaminergic mutants, and more resistant to interruption. Hyper-dopaminergic mutant mice have stronger and more rigid syntactic grooming chain patterns than wild-type control mice. Mutants showed sequential super-stereotypy in the sense of having more stereotyped and predictable syntactic grooming sequences, and were also more likely to resist disruption of the pattern en route, by returning after a disruption to complete the pattern from the appropriate point in the sequence. By contrast, wild-type mice exhibited weaker forms of the fixed action pattern, and often failed to complete the full sequence.
Sequential super-stereotypy occurs in the complex fixed action patterns of hyper-dopaminergic mutant mice. Elucidation of the basis for sequential super-stereotypy of instinctive behavior in DAT knockdown mutant mice may offer insights into neural mechanisms of overly-rigid sequences of action or thought in human patients with disorders such as Tourette's or OCD.
PMCID: PMC552313  PMID: 15710042

Results 1-2 (2)