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Restricted Access Thesis

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First Advisor

Jennifer A. Honeycutt


Extensive stress during developmental periods such as adolescence or childhood predisposes individuals to develop mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression in the future. Early-life adversity (ELA) contributes to these outcomes through disrupting the development of brain regions directly related to stress and emotional regulation such as the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and basolateral amygdala (BLA). In response to ELA, the connections from the BLA to the PFC develop at different rates for males and females, with females experiencing precocial maturation earlier than their male counterparts. By stimulating the BLA via concentric bipolar electrode, we observed the downstream changes in neuronal activation within the PFC. ELA caused significant changes in baseline parvalbumin-containing interneurons in the PFC of ELA males. To connect the neurological results to larger scale changes, rat behavior in response to an aversive social stimulus (ultrasonic vocalization) was assessed and correlated with cellular markers for activity and cell type. Behavioral hyper-responsivity was found in response to the aversive stimulus exclusively in ELA females. Overall, results suggest a lack of functional integration of the precocial maturation of the BLA-PFC circuit seen in juvenile females who undergo ELA. The behavioral changes seen in ELA females may be independent of PFC changes or function via different neurons within the PFC.


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