Individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experience many debilitating symptoms, including intrusive memories, persistent anxiety and avoidance of trauma-related cues. PTSD also results in numerous physiological complications, including increased risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD). However, characterization of PTSD-induced cardiovascular alterations is lacking, especially in preclinical models of the disorder. Thus, we examined the impact of a psychosocial predator-based animal model of PTSD on myocardial sensitivity to ischemic injury. Male and female Sprague-Dawley rats were exposed to psychosocial stress or control conditions for 31 days. Stressed rats were given two cat exposures, separated by a period of 10 days, and were subjected to daily social instability throughout the paradigm. Control rats were handled daily for the duration of the experiment. Rats were tested on the elevated plus maze (EPM) on day 32, and hearts were isolated on day 33 and subjected to 20 min ischemia and 2 h reperfusion on a Langendorff isolated heart system. Stressed male and female rats gained less body weight relative to controls, but only stressed males exhibited increased anxiety on the EPM. Male, but not female, rats exposed to psychosocial stress exhibited significantly larger infarcts and attenuated post-ischemic recovery of contractile function compared to controls. Our data demonstrate that predator stress combined with daily social instability sex-dependently increases myocardial sensitivity to ischemic injury. Thus, this manipulation may be useful for studying potential mechanisms underlying cardiovascular alterations in PTSD, as well as sex differences in the cardiovascular stress response.
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