Jun-Li Cao

University of Colorado, Denver, Colorado, United States

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Publications (6)56.48 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: Lithium has been used extensively for mood stabilization, and it is particularly efficacious in the treatment of bipolar mania. Like other drugs used in the treatment of psychiatric diseases, it has little effect on the mood of healthy individuals. Our previous studies found that mice with a mutation in the Clock gene (ClockΔ19) have a complete behavioral profile that is very similar to human mania, which can be reversed with chronic lithium treatment. However, the cellular and physiological effects that underlie its targeted therapeutic efficacy remain unknown. Here we find that ClockΔ19 mice have an increase in dopaminergic activity in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), and that lithium treatment selectively reduces the firing rate in the mutant mice with no effect on activity in wild-type mice. Furthermore, lithium treatment reduces nucleus accumbens (NAc) dopamine levels selectively in the mutant mice. The increased dopaminergic activity in the Clock mutants is associated with cell volume changes in dopamine neurons, which are also rescued by lithium treatment. To determine the role of dopaminergic activity and morphological changes in dopamine neurons in manic-like behavior, we manipulated the excitability of these neurons by overexpressing an inwardly rectifying potassium channel subunit (Kir2.1) selectively in the VTA of ClockΔ19 mice and wild-type mice using viral-mediated gene transfer. Introduction of this channel mimics the effects of lithium treatment on the firing rate of dopamine neurons in ClockΔ19 mice and leads to a similar change in dopamine cell volume. Furthermore, reduction of dopaminergic firing rates in ClockΔ19 animals results in a normalization of locomotor- and anxiety-related behavior that is very similar to lithium treatment; however, it is not sufficient to reverse depression-related behavior. These results suggest that abnormalities in dopamine cell firing and associated morphology underlie alterations in anxiety-related behavior in bipolar mania, and that the therapeutic effects of lithium come from a reversal of these abnormal phenotypes.
    Neuropsychopharmacology: official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology 03/2011; 36(7):1478-88. · 8.68 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: We previously reported that the activity of mesolimbic dopamine neurons of the ventral tegmental area (VTA) is a key determinant of behavioral susceptibility vs resilience to chronic social defeat stress. However, this was based solely on ex vivo measurements, and the in vivo firing properties of VTA dopamine neurons in susceptible and resilient mice, as well as the effects of antidepressant treatments, remain completely unknown. Here, we show that chronic (10 d) social defeat stress significantly increased the in vivo spontaneous firing rates and bursting events in susceptible mice but not in the resilient subgroup. Both the firing rates and bursting events were significantly negatively correlated with social avoidance behavior, a key behavioral abnormality induced by chronic social defeat stress. Moreover, the increased firing rates, bursting events, and avoidance behavior in susceptible mice were completely reversed by chronic (2 week), but not acute (single dose), treatments with the antidepressant medication fluoxetine (20 mg/kg). Chronic social defeat stress increased hyperpolarization-activated cation current (I(h)) in VTA dopamine neurons, an effect that was also normalized by chronic treatment with fluoxetine. As well, local infusion of I(h) inhibitors ZD7288 (0.1 μg) or DK-AH 269 (0.6 μg) into the VTA exerted antidepressant-like behavioral effects. Together, these data suggest that the firing patterns of mesolimbic dopamine neurons in vivo mediate an individual's responses to chronic stress and antidepressant action.
    Journal of Neuroscience 12/2010; 30(49):16453-8. · 6.91 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Excessive inhibition of brain neurons in primary or slice cultures can induce homeostatic intrinsic plasticity, but the functional role and underlying molecular mechanisms of such plasticity are poorly understood. Here, we developed an ex vivo locus coeruleus (LC) slice culture system and successfully recapitulated the opiate-induced homeostatic adaptation in electrical activity of LC neurons seen in vivo. We investigated the mechanisms underlying this adaptation in LC slice cultures by use of viral-mediated gene transfer and genetic mutant mice. We found that short-term morphine treatment of slice cultures almost completely abolished the firing of LC neurons, whereas chronic morphine treatment increased LC neuronal excitability as revealed during withdrawal. This increased excitability was mediated by direct activation of opioid receptors and up-regulation of the cAMP pathway and accompanied by increased cAMP response-element binding protein (CREB) activity. Overexpression of a dominant negative CREB mutant blocked the increase in LC excitability induced by morphine- or cAMP-pathway activation. Knockdown of CREB in slice cultures from floxed CREB mice similarly decreased LC excitability. Furthermore, the ability of morphine or CREB overexpression to up-regulate LC firing was blocked by knockout of the CREB target adenylyl cyclase 8. Together, these findings provide direct evidence that prolonged exposure to morphine induces homeostatic plasticity intrinsic to LC neurons, involving up-regulation of the cAMP-CREB signaling pathway, which then enhances LC neuronal excitability.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 09/2010; 107(39):17011-6. · 9.81 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Circadian rhythm abnormalities are strongly associated with bipolar disorder; however the role of circadian genes in mood regulation is unclear. Previously, we reported that mice with a mutation in the Clock gene (ClockDelta19) display a behavioral profile that is strikingly similar to bipolar patients in the manic state. Here, we used RNA interference and viral-mediated gene transfer to knock down Clock expression specifically in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) of mice. We then performed a variety of behavioral, molecular, and physiological measures. We found that knockdown of Clock, specifically in the VTA, results in hyperactivity and a reduction in anxiety-related behavior, which is similar to the phenotype of the ClockDelta19 mice. However, VTA-specific knockdown also results in a substantial increase in depression-like behavior, creating an overall mixed manic state. Surprisingly, VTA knockdown of Clock also altered circadian period and amplitude, suggesting a role for Clock in the VTA in the regulation of circadian rhythms. Furthermore, VTA dopaminergic neurons expressing the Clock short hairpin RNA have increased activity compared with control neurons, and this knockdown alters the expression of multiple ion channels and dopamine-related genes in the VTA that could be responsible for the physiological and behavioral changes in these mice. Taken together, these results suggest an important role for Clock in the VTA in the regulation of dopaminergic activity, manic and depressive-like behavior, and circadian rhythms.
    Biological psychiatry 09/2010; 68(6):503-11. · 8.93 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Neurotrophic factors and their signaling pathways have been implicated in the neurobiological adaptations in response to stress and the regulation of mood-related behaviors. A candidate signaling molecule implicated in mediating these cellular responses is the extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK1/2), although its functional role in mood regulation remains to be fully elucidated. Here we show that acute (1 d) or chronic (4 weeks) exposure to unpredictable stress increases phosphorylation of ERK1/2 and of two downstream targets (ribosomal S6 kinase and mitogen- and stress-activated protein kinase 1) within the ventral tegmental area (VTA), an important substrate for motivated behavior and mood regulation. Using herpes simplex virus-mediated gene transfer to assess the functional significance of this ERK induction, we show that overexpressing ERK2 within the VTA increases susceptibility to stress as measured in the forced swim test, responses to unconditioned nociceptive stimuli, and elevated plus maze in Sprague Dawley male rats, and in the tail suspension test and chronic social defeat stress procedure in C57BL/6 male mice. In contrast, blocking ERK2 activity in the VTA produces stress-resistant behavioral responses in these same assays and also blocks a chronic stress-induced reduction in sucrose preference. The effects induced by ERK2 blockade were accompanied by decreases in the firing frequency of VTA dopamine neurons, an important electrophysiological hallmark of resilient-like behavior. Together, these results strongly implicate a role for ERK2 signaling in the VTA as a key modulator of responsiveness to stress and mood-related behaviors.
    Journal of Neuroscience 06/2010; 30(22):7652-63. · 6.91 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Here, we characterized behavioral abnormalities induced by prolonged social isolation in adult rodents. Social isolation induced both anxiety- and anhedonia-like symptoms and decreased cAMP response element-binding protein (CREB) activity in the nucleus accumbens shell (NAcSh). All of these abnormalities were reversed by chronic, but not acute, antidepressant treatment. However, although the anxiety phenotype and its reversal by antidepressant treatment were CREB-dependent, the anhedonia-like symptoms were not mediated by CREB in NAcSh. We found that decreased CREB activity in NAcSh correlated with increased expression of certain K(+) channels and reduced electrical excitability of NAcSh neurons, which was sufficient to induce anxiety-like behaviors and was reversed by chronic antidepressant treatment. Together, our results describe a model that distinguishes anxiety- and depression-like behavioral phenotypes, establish a selective role of decreased CREB activity in NAcSh in anxiety-like behavior, and provide a mechanism by which antidepressant treatment alleviates anxiety symptoms after social isolation.
    Nature Neuroscience 02/2009; 12(2):200-9. · 15.25 Impact Factor