Effects of stress, corticosterone, and epinephrine administration on learning in place and response tasks

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Abstract

These experiments examined the effects of prior stress, corticosterone, or epinephrine on learning in mazes that can be solved efficiently using either place or response strategies. In a repeated stress condition, rats received restraint stress for 6 h/day for 21 days, ending 24 h before food-motivated maze training. In two single stress conditions, rats received a 1-h episode of restraint stress ending 30 min or 24 h prior to training. Single stress ending 30 min prior to training resulted in a significant interaction of stress and learning on the two tasks, with significant enhancement of learning in the response task and non-significant impairment in the place task. Neither acute nor chronic stress significantly altered learning in either task when the stress ended 24 h before training. Thus, the anterograde effects of stress on maze learning ended within a single day. Two stress-related hormones, corticosterone and epinephrine, were tested for effects on learning parallel to those of acute stress. When administered 30 min prior to training, a corticosterone dose (40 mg/kg) that enhanced memory on a spontaneous alternation task did not significantly enhance or impair learning in either task. Two doses of epinephrine that modulate memory in other settings were used to test the effects of epinephrine on learning. Pre-training injections of 0.03 mg/kg epinephrine impaired place learning, while 0.1 mg/kg epinephrine impaired response learning. The epinephrine results mimicked those seen with acute stress on the place task, but were opposite those seen after acute stress on the response task. Thus, corticosterone does not appear to be a major factor mediating the effects of acute stress on place and response learning and epinephrine is, at most, a partial contributor to these effects.

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