The corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) neuropeptide is found to have a pivotal role in the regulation of the behavioral and neuroendocrine responses to stressful challenges. Here, we studied the involvement of the hypothalamic CRF in learning under stressful conditions. We have used a site-specific viral approach to knockdown (KD) CRF expression in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus (PVN). The two-way shuttle avoidance (TWSA) task was chosen to assess learning and memory under stressful conditions. Control animals learned to shuttle from one side to the other to avoid electrical foot shock by responding to a tone. Novel object and social recognition tasks were used to assess memory under less stressful conditions. KD of PVN-CRF expression decreased the number of avoidance responses in a TWSA session under moderate (0.8 mA), but not strong (1.5 mA), stimulus intensity compared to control rats. On the other hand, KD of PVN-CRF had no effect on memory performance in the less stressful novel object or social recognition tasks. Interestingly, basal or stress-induced corticosterone levels in CRF KD rats were not significantly different from controls. Taken together, the data suggest that the observed impairment was not a result of alteration in HPA axis activity, but rather due to reduced PVN-CRF activity on other brain areas. We propose that hypothalamic CRF is centrally involved in learning under moderate stressful challenge. Under 'basal' (less stressful) conditions or when the intensity of the stress is more demanding, central CRF ceases to be the determinant factor, as was indicated by performances in the TWSA with higher stimulus intensity or in the less stressful tasks of object and social recognition.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This research was funded by a grant from the Institute for the Study of Affective Neuroscience University of Haifa, which was endowed by the Hope for Depression Research Foundation. We thank Dr Rachel Anunu for her outstanding help with corticosterone quantification.
- avoidance learning
- corticotropin-releasing factor
- paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Psychiatry and Mental health