Various research programs exploring experience-based neuroplasticity are utilized in the laboratory. A few are highlighted below:
Continuing from the classic work in the 1960’s exploring the impact of enriched environments on brain and behavior, we are exploring the impact of natural-enriched environments. In these studies, we typically use both artificial- and enriched-environments in which novel stimuli are introduced in the environments; for example, whereas a plastic ladder is introduced for climbing in the artificial-enriched environment, a stick is introduced in the natural-enriched environment. Thus, function is controlled for when providing the enrichment stimuli to the groups. Our research suggests that the natural-enriched environment animals are more emotionally resilient.
Natural-Enriched Environments--Sample Published Research:
- Bardi, M., Kaufman, C., Franssen, C., Hyer, M.M., Rzucidlo, A., Brown, M., Tschirhart, M., & Lambert, K.G. (2016). Paper or plastic? Exploring the effects of natural enrichment on behavioral and neuroendocrine responses in Long-Evans rats. Journal of Neuroendocrinology, doi:10.1111/jne.12383.
- Lambert, K., Hyer, M., Bardi, M., Rzucidlo, A., Scott, S., Terhune-Cotter, B., Hazelgrove, A., Silva, I., & Kinsley, C. (2016). Natural-enriched environments lead to enhanced environmental engagement and altered neurobiological resilience. Neuroscience, 330, 386-394.
- Lambert, K., Nelson, R.J., Jovanovic, T., & Cerda, M. (2015). Brains in the City: Neurobiological effects of urbanization. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 58, 107-122.
We profile young rats for coping strategies by assessment via a back test that categorizes rats into passive, active and flexible copers. Thus far, our work suggests that the flexible copers exhibit more emotionally resilient behavioral and neurobiological responses. Although these coping profiles appear to be predisposed, we are interested in how specific experiences may alter these profiles.
Coping Responses--Sample Published Research:
- Hawley, D.F., Bardi, M., Everette, A.M., Higgins, T.J., Tu, K.M., Kinsley, C.H. & Lambert, K.G. (2010). Neurobiological constituents of active, passive and variable coping strategies in rats: Integration of neuropeptide Y and cardiovascular responses. Stress, 13, 172-183.
- Lambert, K.G., Hyer, M.M., Rzucidlo, A., Bergeron, T., Landis, T., & Bardi, B. (2014). Contingency-based emotional resilience: Effort-based reward training and flexible coping lead to adaptive responses to uncertainty in male rats. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, DOI:10.3389/fnbeh.2014.00124
Contingency Training via Effort-Based Reward Training
This work requires a 6-week training program in which rats are trained to search for piles of bedding to dig up desired pieces of sweet cereal. Considering that the nucleus accumbens has close neural ties the striatum, this training protocol is utilized to build positive outcome contingency circuits. When faced with subsequent unsolvable tasks, the contingency-trained animals persist longer and exhibit neurobiological markers of emotional resilience. Thus, this paradigm models learned persistence as opposed to the classic learned helplessness work.
Contingency Training via Effort-Based Reward Training--Sample Published Research:
- Bardi, M., True, M., Franssen, C.L., Kaufman, C., Rzucidlo, A., & Lambert, K.G. (2013). Effort-Based Reward (EBR) training enhances neurobiological efficiency in a problem-solving task: Insights for depression therapies. Brain Research, 1490, 101-110.
- Bardi, M., Rhone, A.P., Franssen, C.L, Hampton, J.E., Shea, E.A., Hyer, M.M., Huber, J., Lambert, K.G. (2012). Behavioral training and predisposed coping strategies interact to influence resilience in Long-Evans rats: Implications for depression. Stress, 15, 306-317.
Neurobiology of the Maternal Brain
Our work has focused on changes that occur in the maternal brain---above and beyond the well-documented changes that accompany pregnancy and lactation. Given the high energetic cost of caring for up to 14 pups, the maternal rat is required to respond efficiently to maintain sufficient resources to raise her offspring. We have reported enhanced spatial foraging and emotional regulation in maternal rats when compared to their virgin counterparts.
Neurobiology of the Maternal Brain--Sample Published Research:
- Kinsley C.H., Blair J.C., Karp N.E., Hester N.W., McNamara I.M., Orthmeyer A.L., McSweeney, M.C., Bardi M., Karelina K., Christon L.M., Sirkin M.R., Victoria L.W., Skurka D.J., Fyfe C.R., Hudepohl M.B., Felicio L.F., Franssen R.A., Meyer E.E., da Silva I.S., & Lambert K.G. (2014). The mother as hunter: Significant reduction in foraging costs through enhancements of predation in maternal rats. Hormones and Behavior, 66:649-654.
- Franssen, R.A., Rzucidlo, A.M., Franssen, C.L., Hampton, J.E., Benkovic, S.A., Bardi, M., Kinsley, C.H., & Lambert, K.G. (2012). Reproductive experience facilitates recovery from kainic acid-induced neural insult in female Long Evans rats. Brain Research, 1454, 80-89.
- Kinsley, C.H., & Lambert, K.G. (2008). Reproduction-Induced Neuroplasticity: Natural behavioral and neuronal alterations associated with the production and care of offspring. Journal of Neuroendocrinology, 20, 515-525.
- Kinsley, C.H., Trainer, R., Stafisso-Sandoz, G., Quadros, P., Marcus, L.K., Hearon, C., Meyer, E.A., Hester, N., Morgan, M., Kozub, F.J., & Lambert, K.G. (2006). Motherhood and the hormones of pregnancy modify concentrations of hippocampal neuronal dendritic spines. Hormones and Behavior, 49(2), 131-142.
- Kinsley, C.H., Madonia, L., Gifford, G.W., Tureski, K., Griffin, G.R., Lowry, C., Williams, J., Collins, J., McLearie, H. & Lambert, K.G. (1999). Motherhood improves learning and memory. Nature, 402,137.
Neurobiology of Paternal Responses
Although only 5% of all mammals engage in paternal responses, the California Deer Mouse (Peromyscus californicus) is a wonderful model of paternal behavior as the males exhibit all parenting responses that are observed in the females except giving birth and lactating. The male in the picture above is grooming a pup that isn’t even his own pup! We have explored the neural circuitry of paternal responses by comparing the nurturing responses of the California Deer Mouse to its close cousin the Common Deer Mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus)—a species that does not exhibit paternal responses.
Neurobiology of Paternal Response--Sample Published Research:
- Lambert, K.G., Franssen, C.L., Hampton, J.E., Rzucidlo, A.M., Hyer, M.M., True, M., Kaufman, C., & Bardi, M. (2013). Modeling Paternal Attentiveness: Distressed Pups Evoke Differential Neurobiological and Behavioral Responses in Paternal and Nonpaternal Mice. Neuroscience, 234, 1-12
- Lambert, K.G., Franssen, C.L., Bardi, M., Hampton, J.E., Hainley, L., Karsner, S., Tu, E.B.,Hyer, M.M., Crockett, A., Baranova, A., Ferguson, T., Ferguson, G., & Kinsley, C.H. (2011). Characteristic and distinct neurobiological patterns differentiate paternal responsiveness in two Peromyscus species. Brain, Behavior, and Evolution, 77, 159-175.
Lifestyle variations in nonhuman primates
In collaboration with Dr. Massi Bardi (Randolph-Macon College), we are interested in health outcomes and biomarkers of resilience in the semi-free ranging Java Macaques at the DuMond Conservancy/Monkey Jungle in Miami FL. We are currently developing various noninvasive methods for collecting hormone samples so that responses such as various types of social behavior, parenting, and interactions with the environment can be correlated with specific health outcomes. We have also explored the effects of parenting on owl monkey problem-solving responses in the owl monkeys at the DuMond Convervancy.
Lifestyle variations in nonhuman primates--Sample Published Research:
- Bardi, M., Eckles, M., Kirk, E., Landis, T., Evans, S., & Lambert, K.G. (2014). Parity modifies endocrine hormones in urine and problem-solving strategies of captive owl monkeys (Aotus spp.). Comparative Medicine, 64, 486-95.
Curiosity and Boldness in Wild Raccoons
The North American raccoon represents a wonderful model animal for the exploration of advanced cognitive functions. In collaboration with Dr. Stan Gehrt (Ohio State University), Dr. Suzana Herculano-Houzel (Vanderbilt University), Dr. Sarah Benson-Amram (University of Wyoming) and Dr. Massi Bardi (RMC), we are exploring behavior and hormonal responses in animals living in habitats requiring more natural foraging practice vs restricted foraging (i.e., in parks with food available in trash receptacles). Thus far, the animals engaging in more natural foraging practices are exhibiting healthier stress hormone profiles. We are also exploring the complexity of the raccoon brain in comparison to other nonprimate mammals—the initial data confirm that their brains are indeed impressive!
Learn more about the research conducted in Dr. Lambert's lab by viewing her presentations and reading her articles on the Neuroscience in the Media page.
Dr. Craig Howard Kinsley, 1955-2016
Dr. Craig Kinsley, a Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Richmond, left the world of neuroscience much too early. As a cherished colleague, friend, co-author and adopted family member, we had a great time discussing and conducting research for nearly three decades. Now that I am at the University of Richmond, working from his former office and laboratory, his influence will continue…..