Exploring the neuroscience of behavioral therapy in rats

January 15, 2018

Psychotherapy may improve symptoms of psychiatric disorders by increasing activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, suggests a study of rats exposed to chronic stress. The research, published in JNeurosci, is a step toward understanding how the brain processes influenced by behavioral therapy may be targeted to improve treatment.

Cognitive behavioral therapies are commonly used to treat stress-related disorders such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, but their effectiveness varies and it is unclear why they help some patients and not others. David Morilak and colleagues previously developed a rodent model of exposure therapy, which involves confronting the source of stress in a safe environment, to better understand how this kind of treatment changes the brain and behavior.

In this study, adult male rats underwent two weeks of stressful experiences. Animals that received the rodent equivalent of exposure therapy showed improvements in their coping behavior and cognitive flexibility the day after treatment, and the researchers demonstrate that activity in the infralimbic region of the ventral medial prefrontal cortex underlies these improvements. These findings are consistent with clinical studies in which patients with stress-related disorders show reduced activity in the medial prefrontal cortex and increased activity in this region after psychotherapy.
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Article: Activity in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex is necessary for the therapeutic effects of extinction in rats
DOI:https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0635-17.2017
Corresponding author: David Morilak (University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, TX, USA), Morilak@uthscsa.edu

About JNeurosci

JNeurosci, the Society for Neuroscience's first journal, was launched in 1981 as a means to communicate the findings of the highest quality neuroscience research to the growing field. Today the journal remains committed to publishing cutting-edge neuroscience that will have an immediate and lasting scientific impact while responding to authors' changing publishing needs, representing breadth of the field and diversity in authorship.

About The Society for Neuroscience

The Society for Neuroscience is the world's largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1969, now has nearly 37,000 members in more than 90 countries and over 130 chapters worldwide.

Society for Neuroscience

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