Stress is a major risk factor for the development of both schizophrenia and depression, and comorbidity between the two is common in schizoaffective disorders. However, the effects of stress exposure (i.e. chronic mild stress-CMS) on depression-related phenotypes in a neurodevelopmental model relevant to schizophrenia (i.e. methylazoxymethanol acetate-MAM) have yet to be explored and could provide insight into shared mechanisms of disease. To this end, we combined the prenatal MAM model with adult CMS exposure and explored the resultant pathophysiology using the social approach test (SAT), immobility in the forced swim test (FST) and amphetamine-induced hyperlocomotion (AIH) as depression- and schizophrenia-related endophenotypes and performed extracellular recordings of ventral tegmental area (VTA) DA neurons. MAM rats exhibited a reduction in social approach and increased VTA DA neuron activity compared to SAL rats or CMS groups. Separate cohorts of MAM animals were subjected to FST and AIH testing (counterbalanced order) or FST only. CMS groups exhibited increased FST immobility. Post-FST, both MAM groups (MAM-CON, MAM-CMS) exhibited blunted locomotor response to amphetamine compared with their SAL counterparts exposed to the same tests. Post-FST, MAM rats exhibited comparable VTA population activity to SAL rats, and CMS groups exhibited attenuated VTA population activity. Apomorphine administration results were consistent with the model suggesting that reductions in VTA DA neuron activity in MAM rats following FST exposure resulted from over-excitation, or depolarization block. These data suggest stress-induced DA downregulation in MAM rats, as FST exposure was sufficient to block the DA hyperresponsivity phenotype.
© 2022. The Author(s).