Cognitive flexibility is a higher-order executive function that requires plasticity in neuronal circuits of the prefrontal cortex. Deficits in cognitive flexibility are prominent in a variety of psychiatric disorders, such as major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder. Chronic stress induces deficits in cognitive flexibility, perhaps through effects on plasticity, but the mechanism is not well understood. Previous work has demonstrated that stress reduces activity and dendritic elaboration in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). In contrast, stress appears to increase dendritic elaboration in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). This suggests that there may be a differential effect of stress on plasticity in different prefrontal cortical areas. To test this hypothesis, we examined the effects of inducing plasticity optogenetically in the OFC on reversal learning, an OFC-mediated form of cognitive flexibility, in stressed and non-stressed rats. Inducing opto-LTD in the projection from mediodorsal thalamus to OFC ameliorated reversal learning deficits in rats exposed to chronic intermittent cold (CIC) stress. Additionally, we found that inducing opto-LTP in non-stressed rats produced deficits in reversal learning similar to those seen in rats after CIC stress. Finally, CIC stress produced complex subregion-specific changes in dendritic material and spine subtype composition in the OFC. These results indicate that the effects of stress on plasticity in the OFC are distinct from those in the mPFC, and that the PFC should therefore not be treated as a homogenous region in studying either stress effects or potential treatments for stress-related psychiatric disorders.
- Chronic stress
- Orbitofrontal cortex
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology
- Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience