Adolescent exposure to stimulants, such as cocaine, may permanently affect the coordinated development of the frontal cortex at the synaptic, circuit and behavioral level. The development of the frontal cortex takes place during late childhood and adolescence, a critical moment for the development for substance use (Paus et al., 2007;Chambers et al., 2003;Spear, 2000). Classic histological analysis and recent longitudinal anatomical structural imaging studies have shown that human frontal cortical development is highly dynamic during adolescence (Lewis et al.,1997;2008;Paus et al., 2008). Volatility of this period may create vulnerability to the development of addiction and serious mental health issues. Repeated stimulant exposure consistently enhances spine density in the apical dendrites of the medial prefrontal cortex in adult rodents (Robinson and Kolb, 2004). It is unclear if this effect is due to fewer synapses lost or more gained in the dynamic process of spine turnover which continues in the cortex through adulthood (Holtmaat et al., 2005). It is also unclear if these extra spines represent greater connectivity from the amygdala, the thalamus, or other regions that innervate frontal dendrites. Further work needs to be done to understand how stimulant exposure affects spine plasticity and synapse properties specifically during the volatile period of adolescent maturation. Our understanding also needs to be refined, so that we better understand the mechanisms of these synaptic changes and specificity to particular circuits. We are using multi-photon imaging technology to determine the effect of early and late adolescent binge cocaine exposure on spine structural dynamics in vivo (spine growth and loss, Aim1 ) and optogenetic technology to measure the balance of input from specific, isolated, long-range afferents that drive frontal cortex (Aim 2). We supplement these anatomical and functional studies of synapses with behavioral analysis to assess the function of the frontal cortex in mice exposed to cocaine at early and late stages of adolescence and saline controls (Aim 3). We will compare the short and long term effects of cocaine exposure on spine dynamics, synapses and behavior in both adolescent and adult mice. Our studies will illuminate the developmental synaptic and circuit mechanisms that make adolescence a high risk period for the development of substance use problems and will inform clinicians and stimulant users of possible negative impacts of use on specific frontal circuit synapses at different stages of development. By identifying specific circuits, synapses, and synaptic plasticity mechanisms that are disrupted by stimulant exposure, our data will also serve as a guide for selection and testing of future drug and cognitive therapies to ameliorate the negative effects of adolescent stimulant exposure on specific neural circuits in adult brains.
Adolescent exposure to stimulants, such as cocaine, may permanently affect the coordinated development of the frontal cortex at the synaptic, circuit and behavioral level. We will measure the effect of cocaine exposure on in vivo spine dynamics, synapses and behavior in both adolescent and adult mouse models. By identifying specific circuits, synapses, and synaptic plasticity mechanisms that are disrupted, our data will also serve as a guide for selection and testing of future drug and cognitive therapies to repair the negative effects of adolescent stimulant exposure on adult neural circuits.
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