The PTZ kindling mouse model of epilepsy exhibits exploratory drive deficits and aberrant activity amongst VTA dopamine neurons in both familiar and novel space

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Recurrent seizures that define epilepsy are often accompanied by psychosocial problems and cognitive deficits with incompletely understood aetiology. We therefore used the pentylenetetrazol (PTZ) kindling model of epilepsy in mice to examine potential seizure-associated neuropathologies, focusing on motivation, memory and novel-environment-induced activation of midbrain dopaminergic neurons. In addition to recurrent seizures, we found that PTZ kindling led to a strong suppression of novelty-driven exploration while largely sparing fear-driven exploration. The deficits in exploratory drive may be relevant for other cognitive impairments since reduced unassisted rearing in a learning arena correlated with poorer spatial memory of object location. Using c-Fos immunofluorescence as a marker of neuronal activity, we observed that dopamine neurons within the ventral tegmental area (VTA) of PTZ kindled mice demonstrate hyperactivity at baseline and hypoactivity in response to a novel environment compared to saline-injected cagemate controls. These data extend previous findings of PTZ kindling-mediated disruptions of hippocampal processes important for novel environment recognition and learning by demonstrating PTZ kindling also induces motivational deficits that are associated with reduced stimulus-evoked activation of VTA dopamine neurons. More broadly, these data help understand the aetiology of complex behavioural changes in the PTZ kindling model, and may assist in the development of superior diagnoses and treatments for epilepsy.

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