Investigating the role of AMPAkines in an animal model of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a severe anxiety disorder affecting cognitive function. 1 in 4 individuals exposed to a life-threatening event may develop PTSD, which is characterised by symptoms of hyperarousal, avoidance and intrusions. Although treatment is effective in most cases, the response is far from satisfactory. It is now clear that novel drug treatment and a better understanding of the neurobiology of PTSD are necessary if we are to realise a better response and treatment outcome in these patients. Glutamatergic pathways play an important role in cognition, while recent studies have emphasized a causal role for glutamate in PTSD, and of the potential value of glutamate receptor modulators in treating the disorder. Stress-related elevation in glutamate exerts detrimental effects on cognition, especially via activation of the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor, and has been implicated in PTSD associated cognitive deficits. Recently, the cr-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA)-type glutamate receptor has been found to exert a modulatory action on NMDA receptor function. Ampakines are positive allosteric modulators of the AMPA receptor, and have demonstrated beneficial effects in animal models of learning as well as antidepressant action, and to improve short-term memory in humans. The aims of this study were firstly to study the effects of the ampakine, Org 26576, on spatial memory performance in healthy male Sprague-Dawley rats. Secondly, since PTSD is associated with pronounced deficits in cognition, we studied the ability of Org 26576 to modify stress-evoked spatial memory deficits in rats subjected to single prolonged stress (SPS), a putative animal model of PTSD. In both cases, neuroreceptor studies were performed to determine any relationship between hippocampal and cortical NMDA receptor binding characteristics and effects on spatial memory performance. After exposure of the animals to either normal handling or SPS conditions, spatial memory performance was assessed using a 5 day memory acquisition and consolidation protocol in a modified version of the Morris water maze (MWM). Experimental and control groups both received either saline (1 ml/kg i.p.) or Org 26576 at incremental doses of 1, 3 or 10 mg/kg intraperitoneally twice daily for 12 days. Separate groups of animals were used for the neuroreceptor studies, except that behavioural testing was not performed. 24hrs after drug treatment discontinuation, the animals were sacrificed and frontal cortex and hippocampus removed for NMDA receptor binding analysis. In normal rats, Org 26576 3 mg/kg and 10 mg/kg exerted a short-lasting reduction in escape latency on day 1, but which lost prominence over the subsequent training days. Org 26576 1, 3 and 10 mg/kg, however, significantly improved spatial memory retrieval on day 5. No changes in frontal cortical or hippocampal NMDA receptors were observed. Contrary to expected, rats subjected to SPS failed to express noteworthy deficits in spatial memory as previously described. Treatment of SPS-exposed animals with Org 26576 did not significantly alter spatial learning evident in SPS animals on day 1 of acquisition training, as well as on subsequent training days. Org 26576 1 mg/kg increased spatial memory retrieval compared to the unstressed saline control, but not compared to the SPS group. Org 26576 only at a dose of 1 mg/kg decreased cortical, but not hippocampal NMDA receptor density (Bmax) in SPS animals versus unstressed but not saline treated SPS animals. No changes in receptor affinity (Kd) were noted. Org 26576 therefore improves early initial spatial learning in healthy rats, but exerts a lesser effect on memory consolidation over the remainder of the training period. However, Org 26576 significantly improves retrieval of spatial memory without simultaneous changes in frontal cortical and hippocampal NMDA receptor binding. Org 26576 thus may benefit both short-term and long-term memory processes in normal animals without effects on limbic NMDA receptor binding, and provides a rationale for testing in conditions that present with cognitive disturbances. However, the SPS model failed to engender marked deficits in spatial memory performance; this result ultimately complicated the interpretation of the combined stress-drug treatment studies. Studies in healthy animals therefore conclude that Org 26576 is an effective agent to enhance long-term memory processes and should be investigated further for its possible application in disorders of cognition. Although the value of Org 26576 in an animal model of PTSD were inconclusive, further studies in SPS and other PTSD models, as well as models of relevance for schizophrenia, Alzheimer's disease and depression, are encouraged.
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