Ketamine facilitates extinction of avoidance behavior and enhances synaptic plasticity in a rat model of anxiety vulnerability: Implications for the pathophysiology and treatment of anxiety disorders

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Abstract

Anxiety disorders and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) share a common feature of pathological avoidance behavior. The Wistar Kyoto (WKY) rat has been used as a model of anxiety vulnerability, expressing a behaviorally inhibited temperament, acquiring avoidance behavior more rapidly and displaying extinction-resistant avoidance compared to Sprague Dawley (SD) rats. Subanesthetic levels of ketamine have gained attention as a rapid antidepressant in treatment-resistant depression. While traditional antidepressants are commonly used to treat anxiety disorders and PTSD, the therapeutic utility of ketamine for these disorders is much less understood. The hippocampus is critical for the actions of antidepressants, is a structure implicated in anxiety disorders and PTSD, and is necessary for extinction of avoidance in SD rats. WKY rats have impaired hippocampal long-term potentiation (LTP), suggesting that persistent avoidance in WKY rats may be due to deficient hippocampal synaptic plasticity. In the present study, we hypothesized that ketamine would facilitate extinction of avoidance learning in WKY rats, and do so by enhancing hippocampal synaptic plasticity. As predicted, ketamine facilitated extinction of avoidance behavior in a subset of WKY rats (responders), with effects lasting at least three weeks. Additionally, LTP in these rats was enhanced by ketamine. Ketamine was not effective in facilitating avoidance extinction or in modifying LTP in WKY non-responders. The results suggest that subanesthetic levels of ketamine may be useful for treating anxiety disorders by reducing avoidance behaviors when combined with extinction conditions. Moreover, ketamine may have its long-lasting behavioral effects through enhancing hippocampal synaptic plasticity.

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