Author's Final Manuscript
Journal of Visualized Experiments
Stress affects cognitive function. Whether stress enhances or impairs cognitive function depends on several factors, including the 1) type, intensity, and duration of the stressor; 2) type of cognitive function under study; and 3) timing of the stressor in relation to learning or executing the cognitive task. Furthermore, sex differences among the effects of stress on cognitive function have been widely documented. Described here is an adaptation of an automated operant strategy shifting paradigm to assess how variations in stress affect cognitive flexibility in male and female Sprague Dawley rats. Specifically, restraint stress is used before or after training in this operant-based task to examine how stress affects cognitive performance in both sexes. Particular brain areas associated with each task in this automated paradigm have been well-established (i.e., the medial prefrontal cortex and orbitofrontal cortex). This allows for targeted manipulations during the experiment or the assessment of particular genes and proteins in these regions upon completion of the paradigm. This paradigm also allows for the detection of different types of performance errors that occur after stress, each of which has defined neural substrates. Also identified are distinct sex differences in perseverative errors after a repeated restraint stress paradigm. The use of these techniques in a preclinical model may reveal how stress affects the brain and impairs cognition in psychiatric disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depressive disorder (MDD), which display marked sex differences in prevalence.
Gargiulo, Andrew T., Xinyue Li and Laura A. Grafe. 2020. "Assessment of Stress Effects on Cognitive Flexibility using an Operant Strategy Shifting Paradigm." Journal of Visualized Experiments 159: e61228.