Current pharmacotherapies for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depressive disorder (MDD) are ineffective for many patients, and often do not restore cognitive dysfunction associated with these disorders. Behavioral therapies, such as exposure therapy, can be effective for treatment-resistant patients. The mechanisms underlying exposure therapy are not well-understood. Fear extinction as an intervention after chronic stress can model the beneficial effects of exposure therapy in rats. Extinction requires neuronal activity and protein synthesis in the infralimbic (IL) cortex for its beneficial effects. We hypothesized that extinction requires Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) activity in the IL cortex to reverse stress-induced cognitive flexibility impairments. Extinction learning reversed set-shifting deficits induced by Chronic Unpredictable Stress (CUS), tested 24 h after extinction. Blocking BDNF signaling in the IL cortex during extinction by local administration of a neutralizing antibody prevented the beneficial effects of extinction on set shifting after stress. Extinction induced activation of the BDNF TrkB receptor, and signaling pathways associated with BDNF (Akt and Erk). Administration of exogenous BDNF into IL cortex in the absence of extinction was sufficient to reverse the effects of stress on set shifting. The effects of extinction were prevented by blocking either Erk or Akt signaling in the IL cortex, whereas the effects of exogenous BDNF were dependent on Erk, but not Akt, signaling. Our observations suggest that BDNF-Erk signaling induced by extinction underlies plastic changes that can reverse or counteract the effects of chronic stress in the IL cortex.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Psychiatry and Mental health