Corticotropin-Releasing Factor Acting at The Locus Coeruleus Disrupts Thalamic and Cortical Sensory-Evoked Responses

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Stress and stress-related psychiatric disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder, are associated with disruptions in sensory information processing. The neuropeptide, corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), coordinates the physiological and behavioral responses to stress, in part, by activating the locus coeruleus-norepinephrine (LC-NE) projection system. Although the LC-NE system is an important modulator of sensory information processing, to date, the consequences of CRF activation of this system on sensory signal processing are poorly understood. The current study examined the dose-dependent actions of CRF at the LC on spontaneous and sensory-evoked discharge of neurons within the thalamus and cortex of the vibrissa somatosensory system in the awake, freely moving rat. Peri-LC infusions of CRF resulted in a dose-dependent suppression of sensory-evoked discharge in ventral posterior medial thalamic and barrel field cortical neurons. A concurrent increase in spontaneous activity was observed. This latter action is generally not found with iontophoretic application of NE to target neurons or stimulation of the LC-NE pathway. Net decreases in signal-to-noise of sensory-evoked responses within both regions suggest that under conditions associated with CRF release at the LC, including stress, the transfer of afferent information within sensory systems is impaired. Acutely, a suppression of certain types of sensory information may represent an adaptive response to an immediate unexpected stressor. Persistence of such effects could contribute to abnormalities of information processing seen in sensorimotor gating associated with stress and stress-related psychopathology.

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Devilbiss DM, Waterhouse BD, Berridge CW, Valentino R. Corticotropin-releasing factor acting at the locus coeruleus disrupts thalamic and cortical sensory-evoked responses. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2012 Aug;37(9):2020-30. Epub 2012 Apr 18. doi: 10.1038/npp.2012.50. PMID: 22510725. PMCID: PMC3398725.