Work Package 2

Gene x environment interactions on brain and behaviour in the Cacna1c genetic rat model: Calcium signalling, microRNAs, and immune activation nvironmental risk and protective factors in genetic rodent models of affective disorders

Dr. Markus Wöhr, Prof. Dr. Rainer Schwarting
University of Marburg, Department of Experimental and Biological Psychology, Behavioural Neuroscience

Affective disorders (AD), i.e. major depressive disorder (MDD) and bipolar disorder (BD), are phenotypes to which genetic and environmental risk factors contribute. The underlying neurobiological mechanisms by which such factors interact and how they exert their influence on brain structure and function are yet poorly understood. WP2, animal backbone of the FOR2107, addresses these questions by applying a gene x environment (GxE) approach in the Cacna1c genetic rat model. In the first funding period, we obtained substantial evidence for multiple behavioural alterations in Cacna1c+/- rats, including elevated anxiety-related behaviour, deficits in prepulse inhibition of acoustic startle under apomorphine challenge, reversal learning impairments in a spatial navigation task, and social behaviour and acoustic communication deficits. Of particular relevance for BD, the effectiveness of lithium in inhibiting mania-like phenotypes evoked by amphetamine was almost blunted in Cacna1c+/- rats. Environmental modulation of behavioural phenotypes was paralleled by GxE interactions at the level of neurobiological measures, immune activation, and epigenetic modifications. For instance, a widespread reduction in mature microRNA (miRNA) levels was detected in the hippocampus of Cacna1c+/+ rats in response to post-weaning social isolation (SI), as a model of maltreatment. Intriguingly, this effect was largely blunted in Cacna1c+/- rats. Specifically, the vast majority of miRNAs (>80%) was affected by the GxE interaction, indicating that most hippocampal miRNAs are subject to regulation by a combination of genetic and environmental factors (collab. Work Package 3). Moreover, while post-weaning SI evoked immune reactivity characterized by elevated pro-inflammatory cytokines in Cacna1c+/+ rats, no such reactivity was seen in Cacna1c+/- rats, suggesting resilience (collab. Work Package 4). In the second funding period, we will follow five lines of research in our established GxE Cacna1c rat model. We will identify biopsychological mechanisms underlying social behaviour and acoustic communication deficits; develop a novel behavioural assay for BD-like affective cycling; and link alterations in calcium signalling components in prefrontal cortex and hippocampus to behavioural phenotypes with relevance to AD. Together with WP3, we will further explore the impact of miRNA manipulations in prefrontal cortex and hippocampus by means of intracerebral injection of recombinant adeno-associated virus particles (rAAV), with the aim to rescue behavioural phenotypes relevant to AD after post-weaning SI through restoring miRNA biogenesis. Finally, with Work Package 3 and Work Package 4, we will assess the impact of such miRNA biogenesis manipulations on immune signatures and, vice versa, the impact of immune challenges on AD-relevant phenotypes. Through this highly interconnected approach, the project promises novel insight regarding miRNA biogenesis and immune system in AD aetiology and treatment.

Project Manager

Dr. Markus Wöhr

Dr. Markus Wöhr

Prof. Dr. Rainer Schwarting

Prof. Dr. Rainer Schwarting

Employees

Dipl.-Psych. Moria Braun

Dipl.-Psych. Moria Braun

Theresa Kisko, M.Sc.

Theresa Kisko, M.Sc.

Tobias Redecker,  M.Sc. Psychology

Tobias Redecker, M.Sc. Psychology

Sophia Bernhard, MTA