Network mechanisms underlying susceptibility to helplessness and response to the antidepressant fluoxetine
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Depression and post-traumatic stress disorder are common psychiatric comorbidities related to stress. These conditions are frequently treated with antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s). However, there are individual differences in susceptibility to stress-induced psychopathologies and response to antidepressants. Therefore, there is a need to identify biologic factors that predict vulnerability to stress and response to treatment. Furthermore, few studies have examined the neural correlates of antidepressant treatment response in a stress-susceptible animal model. This dissertation had three specific aims: 1) to characterize behavioral predictors of stress vulnerability by studying three dimensions of temperament (reward dependence, novelty-specific activity and harm avoidance) before stress exposure using a stress-susceptible rat strain, 2) to identify the neural network effects of response and non-response to SSRI treatment using a stress-susceptible animal model, and 3) to determine the neurophysiologic correlates of helplessness susceptibility. This was examined via measurement of regional brain metabolic capacity and functional connectivity within relevant neural circuits, and measurements of corticosterone and heart rate. These effects were studied in rats that underwent inescapable shock exposure followed by escape testing. Holtzman rats showed greater predisposition to helpless behavior following inescapable shock compared to Sprague Dawley and Long-Evans strains. Also, increased activity in a novel environment and low heart rate appeared to be markers of helplessness susceptibility in Holtzman rats. Limbic-cortical network effects were identified that distinguished between responders and non-responders to antidepressant treatment in the Holtzman strain. Finally, hypermetabolism of the lateral habenula and a less interactive prefrontal-limbic cortex were identified in subjects with higher susceptibility towards helplessness within the Holtzman strain. Similar findings have been reported with other depression animal models and human neuroimaging studies. These findings support that the helpless dimension of mood disorders can be accurately modeled with the Holtzman rat strain and confirm that the lateral habenula and prefrontal cortex are key regions mediating the helpless phenotype and response to SSRI treatment.