Chronic corticosterone-induced impaired cognitive flexibility is not due to suppressed adult hippocampal neurogenesis

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Abstract

Hippocampal neurogenesis has been implicated in the etiology of depression. Recent studies suggest new neurons add flexibility to hippocampal-dependent learning and memory. We hypothesized that suppressed hippocampal neurogenesis may contribute to impaired cognitive flexibility associated with depression. The chronic corticosterone (CORT)-induced animal model of depression was used. In Experiment 1, rats received either CORT (40 mg/kg) or vehicle injections for 21 days and were subjected to Water maze during the last six days of drug treatment. No group differences were found during the spatial learning phase; however, cognitive flexibility, measured by reversal training, was significantly impaired in the CORT-treated rats. The probe test revealed enhanced memory of the new platform location for the CORT-treated rats. Given the time newborn neurons require to mature, we presumed if impaired cognitive flexibility seen in Experiment 1 were due to suppressed neurogenesis, terminating CORT treatment 3 days prior to behavioural testing should still induce the impairment. Therefore, Experiment 2 was similar to Experiment 1, except that CORT injections were terminated 3 days prior to behavioural assessment. However, not only was spatial learning significantly enhanced in the CORT-treated rats, but there were also no group differences during reversal or probe tests. Bromodeoxyruidine, administered a day after the first drug treatments in both experiments, was quantified and revealed the number of new neurons were the same in both groups in both experiments. Results suggest cognitive flexibility is impaired in the CORT-induced animal model of depression; an effect that is reversible and independent of suppressed hippocampal neurogenesis.

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