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Anhedonia Following Early-Life Adversity Involves Aberrant Interaction of Reward and Anxiety Circuits and Is Reversed by Partial Silencing of Amygdala Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone Gene.


BACKGROUND:Anhedonia, the diminished ability to experience pleasure, is an important dimensional entity linked to depression, schizophrenia, and other emotional disorders, but its origins and mechanisms are poorly understood. We have previously identified anhedonia, manifest as decreased sucrose preference and social play, in adolescent male rats that experienced chronic early-life adversity/stress (CES). Here we probed the molecular, cellular, and circuit processes underlying CES-induced anhedonia and tested them mechanistically. METHODS:We examined functional brain circuits and neuronal populations activated by social play in adolescent CES and control rats. Structural connectivity between stress- and reward-related networks was probed using high-resolution diffusion tensor imaging, and cellular/regional activation was probed using c-Fos. We employed viral-genetic approaches to reduce corticotropin-releasing hormone (Crh) expression in the central nucleus of the amygdala in anhedonic rats, and tested for anhedonia reversal in the same animals. RESULTS:Sucrose preference was reduced in adolescent CES rats. Social play, generally considered an independent measure of pleasure, activated brain regions involved in reward circuitry in both control and CES groups. In CES rats, social play activated Crh-expressing neurons in the central nucleus of the amygdala, typically involved in anxiety/fear, indicating aberrant functional connectivity of pleasure/reward and fear circuits. Diffusion tensor imaging tractography revealed increased structural connectivity of the amygdala to the medial prefrontal cortex in CES rats. Crh-short hairpin RNA, but not control short hairpin RNA, given into the central nucleus of the amygdala reversed CES-induced anhedonia without influencing other emotional measures. CONCLUSIONS:These findings robustly demonstrate aberrant interactions of stress and reward networks after early-life adversity and suggest mechanistic roles for Crh-expressing amygdala neurons in emotional deficits portending major neuropsychiatric disorders.

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