Date of Award


Degree Type

Closed Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Neuroscience Institute

First Advisor

Dr. Kim Huhman

Second Advisor

Dr. Elliott Albers

Third Advisor

Dr. Marise Parent

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Aras Petrulis


Psychological stressors such as social stress and bullying are prevalent in today’s society. Disorders such as PTSD, depression and social anxiety disorder can be either caused or exacerbated by social stress and treatment options are not always effective in providing relief for these disorders. Our laboratory studies a form of social stress termed conditioned defeat, whereby a defeated Syrian hamster no longer displays species-typical territorial aggression but instead is submissive and defensive toward an intruder in its own cage. We hypothesized that the nucleus accumbens is a necessary component of the circuit mediating the acquisition and expression of conditioned defeat and that dopamine is necessary within the nucleus accumbens for inducing memory processes as well as expression of behavioral responses to stressful situations. We also hypothesized that defeat activates dopaminergic and/or nondopaminergic neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and that dopamine released by neurons projecting from the VTA to the nucleus accumbens and basolateral amygdala (BLA) increases neuronal activation of these structures during defeat. We found that dopamine, but not GABA, modulates memory of social defeat within the nucleus accumbens. However, GABA does affect the expression of behavioral responses to social defeat. Defeat also increased Fos activation of non-dopaminergic neurons, but it did not increase activation of dopaminergic neurons. Baclofen infusion into the VTA prior to defeat, which was hypothesized to specifically inhibit dopaminergic neurons, did not affect Fos activation within the nucleus accumbens and the basolateral amygdala. These experiments determined that dopamine does modulate memory of social defeat within the nucleus accumbens, but it is currently unclear what the source of this dopamine is. Future experiments are planned to determine this source of dopamine that could be a target of treatment for disorders that are caused or exacerbated by social stress.