Schizophrenia is a severe psychiatric disorder characterized by three symptom domains, positive (hallucinations, obsession), negative (social withdrawal, apathy, self-neglect) and cognitive (impairment in attention, memory and executive function). Whereas current medication ameliorates positive symptomatology, negative symptoms as well as cognitive dysfunctions remain untreated. The development of improved therapies for negative symptoms has proven particularly difficult, in part due to the inability of mimicking these in rodents. Here, we address the predictive validity of combining an ethologically well preserved behavior in rodents, namely nest building activity, with an established animal model of schizophrenia, the sub-chronic PCP model, for negative symptoms. Decline in rodent nesting activity has been suggested to mirror domains of negative symptoms of schizophrenia, including social withdrawal, anhedonia and self-neglect, whereas repeated treatment with the NMDAR antagonist PCP induces and exacerbates schizophrenia-like symptoms in rodents and human subjects. Using a back-translational approach of pharmacological validation, we tested the effects of two agents targeting the nicotinic α7 receptor (EVP-6124 and TC-5619) that were reported to exert some beneficial effect on negative symptoms in schizophrenic patients. Sub-chronic PCP treatment resulted in a significant nest building deficit in mice and treatment with EVP-6124 and TC-5619 reversed this PCP-induced deficit. In contrast, the atypical antipsychotic drug risperidone remained ineffective in this assay. In addition, EVP-6124, TC-5619 and risperidone were tested in the Social Interaction Test (SIT), an assay suggested to address negative-like symptoms. Results obtained in SIT were comparable to results in the nest building test (NEST). Based on these findings, we propose nest building in combination with the sub-chronic PCP model as a novel approach to assess negative-like symptoms of schizophrenia in rodents.
Keywords: EVP-6124; Nest building test (NEST); Schizophrenia; Social interaction test (SIT); Sub-chronic PCP; TC-5619.
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