• CHARACTERIZATION OF THE ROLE AND UNDERLYING MECHANISMS OF TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY ON REWARD SEEKING BEHAVIOR USING PRECLINICAL ANIMAL MODELS

      Ramirez, Servio H.; Unterwald, Ellen M.; Rawls, Scott M.; Barbe, Mary F.; Bangasser, Debra A. (Temple University. Libraries, 2019)
      Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a prominent healthcare concern in the U.S. as millions of TBI-related emergency department visits occur annually. Recent reports estimate more than 5 million Americans currently suffer from life-long disabilities and psychiatric complications associated with TBI. While the risk of TBI has conventionally been considered to be male dominated, analyses of sex-comparable sports indicate that rates of concussions are higher and recovery time is longer following brain injury in females. Following anxiety and depression, substance use disorder (SUD) is the third most common de-novo neuropsychiatric condition diagnosed in both male and female TBI patients. Importantly, during adolescence the primary neuronal networks that regulate reward behaviors and perception of drug-induced euphoria are not fully developed, corroborating epidemiological studies identifying TBI sustained during adolescence as a risk factor for problematic drug use. Yet, to date, little is known about how TBI-induced molecular changes affect brain structures essential for the perception of reward and processing drug-induced euphoria. The following experiments were designed to test the hypothesis that adolescent TBI-induced neuroinflammation in areas such as prefrontal cortex (PFC) and nucleus accumbens (NAc) results in remodeling of neuronal reward networks and affect how the rewarding effects of cocaine shift as a consequence of TBI. Notably, the extent of sex differences in SUD susceptibility in TBI has not be investigated. Therefore, we also investigated whether the immune response stimulated by early-life TBI alters maturation of reward neurocircuits, leading to increased SUD vulnerability in a sex-dependent manner. Following the induction of TBI using the controlled cortical impact (CCI) model of brain injury, we utilized a biased, three-phased cocaine conditioned place preference (CPP) assay to assess the behavioral response to the rewarding effects of cocaine following adolescent injury in male and female C57BL6 mice. Furthermore, we characterized the effect of CCI-TBI on the stimulation of neuroinflammation within the PFC and NAc, comprising the reward pathway. Specifically, our studies revealed a sex-specific increase in 1) sensitivity to the rewarding efficacy of a subthreshold doses of cocaine interpreted from significantly higher cocaine CPP shifts, 2) the activation and phagocytosis of microglia observed by the positive expression of neuronal synaptic proteins in microglia sorted using flow cytometry, 3) increase in permeability of the blood-brain barrier indicated by discontinuous and depleted expression of tight junction proteins that line microvasculature isolated from reward nuclei, 4) decreased neuronal complexity, arborization, and spine density quantified from Golgi-cox stained NAc neurons, 5) changes in expression of genes related to the dopamine system analyzed by qRT-PCR in only male mice injured during adolescence. Additionally, our results imply that high levels of female hormones can promote neuroprotection against increased sensitivity to the rewarding properties of cocaine following injury, associated with decreased neuroinflammatory profiles after TBI in adolescent females. The studies herein aimed to elucidate underlying neuropathological outcomes following TBI in the reward circuitry that could be contributing to increased risk of addiction-like behavior observed clinically. Our findings suggest that TBI during adolescence may enhance the abuse liability of cocaine in adulthood and vulnerability to the rewarding effects of cocaine could be higher as a result of brain injury. Key pathological findings in the NAc such as activated microglial phagocytosis, BBB changes, reduced neuronal complexity, and changes in dopamine gene expression in areas of the reward pathways support the notion that neuroinflammation may contribute to how the rewarding efficacy of cocaine are affected post-TBI during adolescence. The ultimate goal of this research is to 1) advance TBI and SUD literature with the potential to increase awareness and help health care providers inform TBI patients about the increased risk for SUDs, and 2) to translate identified correlated mechanisms into novel targeted therapies that would provide a launching point for the treatment of patients with TBI-related SUD.