Exposing Rats to a Predator Blocks Primed Burst Potentiation in the Hippocampus in Vitro

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psychological stress, neuronal plasticity, memory, LTP, hippocampus, fear

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This study evaluated the effects of acute psychological stress (cat exposure) in adult male rats on electrophysiological plasticity subsequently assessed in the hippocampus in vitro. Two physiological models of memory were studied in CA1 in each recording session: (1) primed burst potentiation (PBP), a lowthreshold form of plasticity produced by a total of five physiologically patterned pulses; and (2) long-term potentiation (LTP), a suprathreshold form of plasticity produced by a train of 100 pulses. Three groups of rats were studied: (1) undisturbed rats in their home cage (home cage); (2) rats placed in a chamber for 75 min (chamber); and (3) rats placed in a chamber for 75 min in close proximity to a cat (chamber/stress). At the end of the chamber exposure period, blood samples were obtained, and the hippocampus was prepared for in vitro recordings. Only the chamber/stress group had elevated (stress) levels of corticosterone. The major finding was that PBP, but not LTP, was blocked in the chamber/stress group. Thus, the psychological stress experienced by the rats in response to cat exposure resulted in an inhibition of plasticity, which was localized to the intrinsic circuitry of the hippocampus. This work provides novel observations on the effects of an ethologically relevant stressor on PBP in vitro and of the relative insensitivity of LTP to being modulated by psychological stress. We discuss the relevance of these electrophysiological findings to our behavioral work showing that predator stress impairs spatial memory.

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Journal of Neuroscience, v. 19, issue 14, art. RC18