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Date of Award


Document Type

Restricted Thesis: Campus only access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science



First Advisor

Kelly Lambert


Psychiatric illness, specifically depression, is an extremely prominent concern both in the United States and globally. Most pharmacological treatments for depression target the monoaminergic neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and/or norepinephrine. However, the lack of specificity of treatments and inconsistent effectiveness of common options, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), suggests the need to explore new avenues. Due to the growing evidence for the link between acetylcholine and depression, we sought to test whether rats who experienced effort-based reward (EBR) training, a preventative non- pharmacological approach to build resilience against depression, had varied levels of choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) in the cingulate compared to control animals. ChAT is a marker for cholinergic activity and was quantified in the cingulate and motor cortex of EBR and control animals. EBR training involved animals having to dig in mounds of bedding to obtain a food reward, while control animals received the same reward without having to contribute any effort. We did not find significant differences between the experimental and control animals and this lack of difference, however, may be the result of unstressed animals or ChAT’s lack of sensitivity as an accurate ACh marker. Interestingly, the literature suggests the significance of cholinergic subunit specificity as a potential target for treatment and successful increases in resilience markers in response to effort-based reward training. The differences in findings between our study and the literature indicate the need to continue exploring depression treatments beyond the typical first-line pharmacological options, specifically regarding acetylcholine.