Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The power of positivity.

Ramirez et al. make the fascinating observation that depressive-like stress responses in mice can be acutely suppressed through artificial reactivation of a small population of neurons that had previously been activated by a positive experience - these cells apparently being the physical substrate, or engram, of the positive memory. This suggests a fundamental explanation for why eliciting the recall of pleasant memories can sometimes be an effective psychotherapeutic technique for relieving stress, lack of motivation, or anhedonia in humans.
Stress is considered a potent environmental risk factor for many behavioural abnormalities, including anxiety and mood disorders. Animal models can exhibit limited but quantifiable behavioural impairments resulting from chronic stress, including deficits in motivation, abnormal responses to behavioural challenges, and anhedonia. The hippocampus is thought to negatively regulate the stress response and to mediate various cognitive and mnemonic aspects of stress-induced impairments, although the neuronal underpinnings sufficient to support behavioural improvements are largely unknown. Here we acutely rescue stress-induced depression-related behaviours in mice by optogenetically reactivating dentate gyrus cells that were previously active during a positive experience. A brain-wide histological investigation, coupled with pharmacological and projection-specific optogenetic blockade experiments, identified glutamatergic activity in the hippocampus–amygdala–nucleus-accumbens pathway as a candidate circuit supporting the acute rescue. Finally, chronically reactivating hippocampal cells associated with a positive memory resulted in the rescue of stress-induced behavioural impairments and neurogenesis at time points beyond the light stimulation. Together, our data suggest that activating positive memories artificially is sufficient to suppress depression-like behaviours and point to dentate gyrus engram cells as potential therapeutic nodes for intervening with maladaptive behavioural states.

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