Inactivation of basolateral amygdala prevents chronic immobilization stress-induced memory impairment and associated changes in corticosterone levels

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Chronic stress causes detrimental effects on various forms of learning and memory. The basolateral amygdala (BLA) not only plays a crucial role in mediating certain forms of memory, but also in the modulation of the effects of stress. Chronic immobilization stress (CIS) results in hypertrophy of the BLA, which is believed to be one of the underlying causes for stress' effects on learning. Thus, it is plausible that preventing the effects of CIS on amygdala would preclude its deleterious cognitive effects. Accordingly, in the first part, we evaluated the effect of excitotoxic lesion of the BLA on chronic stress-induced hippocampal-dependent spatial learning using a partially baited radial arm maze task. The BLA was ablated bilaterally using ibotenic acid prior to CIS. Chronically stressed rats showed impairment in spatial learning with decreased percentage correct choice and increased reference memory errors. Excitotoxic lesion of the BLA prevented the impairment in spatial learning and reference memory. In the retention test, lesion of the BLA was able to rescue the chronic stress-induced impairment. Interestingly, stress-induced enhanced plasma corticosterone levels were partially prevented by the lesion of BLA. These results motivated us to evaluate if the same effects can be observed with temporary inactivation of BLA, only during stress. We found that chronic stress-induced spatial learning deficits were also prevented by temporary inactivation of the BLA. Additionally, temporary inactivation of BLA partially precluded the stress-induced increase in plasma corticosterone levels. Thus, inactivation of BLA precludes stress-induced spatial learning deficits, and enhanced plasma corticosterone levels. It is speculated that BLA inactivation-induced reduction in corticosterone levels during stress, might be crucial in restoring spatial learning impairments. Our study provides evidence that amygdalar modulation during stress might be beneficial for strategic management of stress-related cognitive deficits.

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