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New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 30 new articles in PLoS ONE this week. Here are my picks:

Ultrasonic Communication in Rats: Can Playback of 50-kHz Calls Induce Approach Behavior?:

Rats emit distinct types of ultrasonic vocalizations, which differ depending on age, the subject’s current state and environmental factors. Since it was shown that 50-kHz calls can serve as indices of the animal’s positive subjective state, they have received increasing experimental attention, and have successfully been used to study neurobiological mechanisms of positive affect. However, it is likely that such calls do not only reflect a positive affective state, but that they also serve a communicative purpose. Actually, rats emit the highest rates of 50-kHz calls typically during social interactions, like reproductive behavior, juvenile play and tickling. Furthermore, it was recently shown that rats emit 50-kHz calls after separation from conspecifics. The aim of the present study was to test the communicative value of such 50-kHz calls. In a first experiment, conducted in juvenile rats situated singly on a radial maze apparatus, we showed that 50-kHz calls can induce behavioral activation and approach responses, which were selective to 50-kHz signals, since presentation of 22-kHz calls, considered to be aversive or threat signals, led to behavioral inhibition. In two other experiments, we used either natural 50-kHz calls, which had been previously recorded from other rats, or artificial sine wave stimuli, which were identical to these calls with respect to peak frequency, call length and temporal appearance. These signals were presented to either juvenile (Exp. 2) or adult (Exp. 3) male rats. Our data clearly show that 50-kHz signals can induce approach behavior, an effect, which was more pronounced in juvenile rats and which was not selective to natural calls, especially in adult rats. The recipient rats also emitted some 50-kHz calls in response to call presentation, but this effect was observed only in adult subjects. Together, our data show that 50-kHz calls can serve communicative purposes, namely as a social signal, which increases the likelihood of approach in the recipient conspecific.

An Animal Model of Emotional Blunting in Schizophrenia:

Schizophrenia is often associated with emotional blunting–the diminished ability to respond to emotionally salient stimuli–particularly those stimuli representative of negative emotional states, such as fear. This disturbance may stem from dysfunction of the amygdala, a brain region involved in fear processing. The present article describes a novel animal model of emotional blunting in schizophrenia. This model involves interfering with normal fear processing (classical conditioning) in rats by means of acute ketamine administration. We confirm, in a series of experiments comprised of cFos staining, behavioral analysis and neurochemical determinations, that ketamine interferes with the behavioral expression of fear and with normal fear processing in the amygdala and related brain regions. We further show that the atypical antipsychotic drug clozapine, but not the typical antipsychotic haloperidol nor an experimental glutamate receptor 2/3 agonist, inhibits ketamine’s effects and retains normal fear processing in the amygdala at a neurochemical level, despite the observation that fear-related behavior is still inhibited due to ketamine administration. Our results suggest that the relative resistance of emotional blunting to drug treatment may be partially due to an inability of conventional therapies to target the multiple anatomical and functional brain systems involved in emotional processing. A conceptual model reconciling our findings in terms of neurochemistry and behavior is postulated and discussed.

The Oral Cavity and Age: A Site of Chronic Inflammation?:

Aging may be accompanied by a low grade chronic up-regulation of inflammatory mediators. A variety of endogenous locally released mediators as well as inflammatory cells have been reported in the human oral cavity. The aim of this investigation was to determine the presence of different classes of inflammatory mediators in human saliva and correlate the levels with age. Unstimulated whole buccal salivary samples were obtained in the morning from 94 healthy volunteers within 30 minutes after waking. None of the participants had taken aspirin in the week prior to the saliva collection. Lysozyme activity, eicosanoid levels (prostaglandin E2 and leukotriene B4) and MMP-9 activity were measured. The antimicrobial activity (lysozyme activity) was not correlated with age whereas PGE2 levels were markedly correlated with age (r = 0.29; P<0.05; n = 56). Saliva from healthy subjects (≤40 years) compared with data derived from older volunteers (>40 years) demonstrated a significant increase in the mean values for PGE2 and MMP-9 activity with age. In addition, significant correlations were observed between LTB4 and PGE2 (r = 0.28; P<0.05; n = 56) and between LTB4 levels and MMP-9 activity in smokers (r = 0.78; P<0.001; n = 15). The presence of significant levels and activity of inflammatory mediators in saliva suggests that the oral cavity of healthy subjects may be in a constant low state of inflammation associated with age.