Brain and skin blood flow: new animal model for understanding psychiatric disorders and evaluating psychotropic agents [ 2002 - 2006 ]

Also known as: Regulation of skin blood flow by the brain: an animal model of psychiatric disorders in humans

Research Grant

[Cite as]

Researchers: E/Pr William Blessing (Principal investigator)

Brief description We suddenly become pale when we get a fright; cutaneous blood vessels are linked to psychological function. The skin vessel constriction response occurs because special neurochemical pathways in the brain send messages to the spinal cord, and from there messages traverse peripheral sympathetic nerves to constrict the blood vessels in the skin. By measuring skin blood flow in the rabbit ear and the rat tail we have been able to discover the major brain pathway by which the constrict-the-skin-blood-vessels message reaches the spinal cord. The pathway involves the amygdala, a forebrain region important in emotional expression and the raphe nuclei in the medulla oblongata. Drugs which affect psychological function also effect skin blood flow. Ecstasy, the street drug used to induce euphoria also constricts the skin vessels, and, sadly, the body temperature may increase so much that death ensues. Ecstasy vigorously constricts the skin blood vessels in rabbits, and temperature increases. Ecstasy is thought to act on serotonin-containing nerve cells in the brain, releasing serotonin (5-HT) onto special 5-HT2A receptors. Activation of these receptors affects both psychological function and skin blood flow. Modern drugs used to treat schizophrenia, so called atypical antipsychotics like clozapine and olanzapine, are thought to act as antagonists at 5-HT2A receptors in the brain. We were thus very excited when we discovered in our rabbit model that clozapine reverses the skin vasoconstriction induced by ecstasy. This means that we have specific hypotheses concerning the actual brain pathways and neurotransmitters whereby ecstasy and clozapine exert their effects on skin blood flow. Elucidating these pathways in rabbits and rats will provide solid knowledge concerning the mechanism of action of the atypical antipsychotics, and it may well prove possible to use our animal model to predict whether proposed new antipsychotic agents will be therapeutically effective.

Funding Amount $AUD 874,840.00

Funding Scheme NHMRC Project Grants

Notes Standard Project Grant

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