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Schizophr Bull. 2017 May 1;43(3):592-600. doi: 10.1093/schbul/sbw156.

Prefrontal Cortex Dysfunction Increases Susceptibility to Schizophrenia-Like Changes Induced by Adolescent Stress Exposure.

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Departments of Neuroscience, Psychiatry and Psychology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA.


Stress during adolescence is a risk factor for schizophrenia, and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) dysfunction is proposed to interfere with stress control, increasing the susceptibility to stress. We evaluated the impact of different stressful events during adolescence (restraint stress [RS], footshock [FS], or the combination of FS and RS) on behaviors correlated with schizophrenia in rats as adults. At adulthood, animals were tested for anxiety responses (elevated plus-maze), cognitive function (novel-object recognition test) and dopamine (DA) system responsivity (locomotor response to amphetamine and DA neuron activity in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) using in vivo electrophysiology). All adolescent stressors impaired weight gain and induced anxiety-like responses in adults. FS and FS + RS also disrupted cognitive function. Interestingly, only the combination of FS and RS induced a DA hyper-responsivity as indicated by augmented locomotor response to amphetamine and increased number of spontaneously active DA neurons which was confined to the lateral VTA. Additionally, prelimbic (pl) mPFC lesions triggered a DA hyper-responsivity in animals exposed to FS alone during adolescence. Our results are consistent with previous studies showing long-lasting changes induced by stressful events during adolescence. The impact on DA system activity, however, seems to depend on intense multiple stressors. Our data also suggest that plPFC dysfunction increases the vulnerability to stress in terms of changes in the DA system. Hence, stress during adolescence could be a precipitating factor for the transition to schizophrenia, and stress control at this vulnerable period may circumvent these changes to prevent the emergence of psychosis.


adolescence; dopamine; prefrontal cortex; psychosis; stress

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