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      Ecologically relevant neurobehavioral assessment of the development of threat learning

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      Learning & Memory

      Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

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          <p class="first" id="d4962878e137">As altricial infants gradually transition to adults, their proximate environment changes. In three short weeks, pups transition from a small world with the caregiver and siblings to a complex milieu rich in dangers as their environment expands. Such contrasting environments require different learning abilities and lead to distinct responses throughout development. Here, we will review some of the learned fear conditioned responses to threats in rats during their ontogeny, including behavioral and physiological measures that permit the assessment of learning and its supporting neurobiology from infancy through adulthood. In adulthood, odor–shock conditioning produces robust fear learning to the odor that depends upon the amygdala and related circuitry. Paradoxically, this conditioning in young pups fails to support fear learning and supports approach learning to the odor previously paired with shock. This approach learning is mediated by the infant attachment network that does not include the amygdala. During the age range when pups transition from the infant to the adult circuit (10–15 d old), pups have access to both networks: odor–shock conditioning in maternal presence uses the attachment circuit but the adult amygdala-dependent circuit when alone. However, throughout development (as young as 5 d old) the attachment associated learning can be overridden and amygdala-dependent fear learning supported, if the mother expresses fear in the presence of the pup. This social modulation of the fear permits the expression of defense reactions in life threatening situations informed by the caregiver but prevents the learning of the caregiver itself as a threat. </p>

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          Author and article information

          Learning & Memory
          Learn. Mem.
          Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
          September 15 2016
          September 15 2016
          October 2016
          : 23
          : 10
          : 556-566
          © 2016


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