Recovery of function after lesions of the anterior thalamic nuclei: CA1 neuromorphology
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
The anterior thalamic nuclei (ATN) are a critical part of an extended hippocampal system that supports key elements of episodic memory. Damage or disconnection of the ATN is a component of clinical conditions associated with severe anterograde amnesisa such as the Korsakoff’s syndrome, thalamic stroke, and neurodegenerative disorders. Previous studies have demonstrated that the ATN and hippocampus are often interdependent, and that ATN damage can result in ‘covert pathology’ in ostensibly healthy distal regions of the extended hippocampal system. Adult male rats with neurotoxic bilateral ATN lesions or sham surgery were post-operatively housed in an enriched environment or standard housing after a lesion-induced spatial working memory deficit had been established. These rats were retested on cross-maze and then trained in radial-arm maze spatial memory tasks. Other enriched rats received pseudo-training only after the enrichment period. The detailed neuromorphology of neurons was subsequently examined in the hippocampal CA1. Soma characteristics were also examined in the retrosplenial granular b cortex and the prelimbic cortex. In Experiment 1, ATN lesions produced clear deficits in both the cross-maze and radial-arm maze tasks and reduced hippocampal CA1 dendritic complexity, length, and spine density, while increasing the average diameter of the dendrites. Post-operative enrichment reversed the ATN lesion-induced deficits in the cross-maze and radial-arm maze, and returned CA1 basal and apical spine density to a level comparable to that of sham standard housed trained rats. The sham enriched rats exhibited improved radial-arm maze performance and increased CA1 branching complexity and spine density in both basal and apical arbors compared to sham standard housed rats. The neuromorphological changes observed in the enriched ATN and sham rats may be in part responsible for the spatial working memory improvements observed. Experiment 2 provided support for this contention by demonstrating that the CA1 spine changes were explicitly relevant to spatial learning and memory, because trained enriched sham and ATN rats had increased spines, particularly in the basal tree when compared to closely comparable pseudo-trained enriched rats. Interestingly, spatial memory training increased the numbers of both thin and mushroom spines, whereas enrichment was only associated with an increase in thin spines. In Experiment 3, ATN lesions increased cell body size in layer II of the retrosplenial granular b cortex, whereas enrichment decreased cell body size in layer V of this region. Neither ATN lesions nor enrichment had any effect on cell body morphology in the prelimbic cortex. The current research provides some of the strongest evidence to date of ATN and hippocampal interdependence within the extended hippocampal system, and provides the first evidence of neuromorphological correlates of recovery after ATN lesions.