Modelling depression in animals has been a key aim of biomedical research for decades. However, current animal models of depression are increasingly questioned, & standard animal testing situations model only a few symptoms of the disease. To better assess animal depression, a broader set of psychological, neuroanatomical & cognitive alterations evident in depressed patients needs to be considered. The role of cognition, despite being both a risk factor & indicator of human affective disorders, has been particularly neglected in animal models. My project will focus on altered cognition, particularly memory. Using rats, I will test the hypothesis that, just as in depressed humans, animals in negative affective states retrieve negative information from memory better than positive information. Rats’ affective states will be environmentally & pharmacologically manipulated. They will be trained to acquire positive or negative information (e.g. localising food rewards & unpalatable food in an arena), and retrieval of these memories subsequently tested. Furthermore, I will assess whether negative biases in memory retrieval statistically co-vary with other ready-validated depression-like traits in these animals (anhedonia & cognitive pessimism). This multidisciplinary project encompassing animal cognition, psychology, ethology, welfare science & pharmacology will train me in techniques essential for the development of better animal models of affective disorders &, more generally, for scientific progress in the understanding of animal affective states (critical in welfare science, pain research & psychopharmacology). Pr Mendl’s lab (the largest gathering of animal welfare researchers in the world) provides in-depth expertise in these areas, & the University of Bristol is committed to equipping its research fellows with the skills necessary to become internationally-leading principal investigators, which will boost my career development as an independent European scientist.
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