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      Midbrain circuits for defensive behaviour

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          Abstract

          Survival in threatening situations depends on the selection and rapid execution of an appropriate active or passive defensive response, yet the underlying brain circuitry is not understood. Here we use circuit-based optogenetic, in vivo and in vitro electrophysiological, and neuroanatomical tracing methods to define midbrain periaqueductal grey circuits for specific defensive behaviours. We identify an inhibitory pathway from the central nucleus of the amygdala to the ventrolateral periaqueductal grey that produces freezing by disinhibition of ventrolateral periaqueductal grey excitatory outputs to pre-motor targets in the magnocellular nucleus of the medulla. In addition, we provide evidence for anatomical and functional interaction of this freezing pathway with long-range and local circuits mediating flight. Our data define the neuronal circuitry underlying the execution of freezing, an evolutionarily conserved defensive behaviour, which is expressed by many species including fish, rodents and primates. In humans, dysregulation of this 'survival circuit' has been implicated in anxiety-related disorders.

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          Most cited references 34

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          Switching on and off fear by distinct neuronal circuits.

          Switching between exploratory and defensive behaviour is fundamental to survival of many animals, but how this transition is achieved by specific neuronal circuits is not known. Here, using the converse behavioural states of fear extinction and its context-dependent renewal as a model in mice, we show that bi-directional transitions between states of high and low fear are triggered by a rapid switch in the balance of activity between two distinct populations of basal amygdala neurons. These two populations are integrated into discrete neuronal circuits differentially connected with the hippocampus and the medial prefrontal cortex. Targeted and reversible neuronal inactivation of the basal amygdala prevents behavioural changes without affecting memory or expression of behaviour. Our findings indicate that switching between distinct behavioural states can be triggered by selective activation of specific neuronal circuits integrating sensory and contextual information. These observations provide a new framework for understanding context-dependent changes of fear behaviour.
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            A framework for studying emotions across species.

            Since the 19th century, there has been disagreement over the fundamental question of whether "emotions" are cause or consequence of their associated behaviors. This question of causation is most directly addressable in genetically tractable model organisms, including invertebrates such as Drosophila. Yet there is ongoing debate about whether such species even have "emotions," as emotions are typically defined with reference to human behavior and neuroanatomy. Here, we argue that emotional behaviors are a class of behaviors that express internal emotion states. These emotion states exhibit certain general functional and adaptive properties that apply across any specific human emotions like fear or anger, as well as across phylogeny. These general properties, which can be thought of as "emotion primitives," can be modeled and studied in evolutionarily distant model organisms, allowing functional dissection of their mechanistic bases and tests of their causal relationships to behavior. More generally, our approach not only aims at better integration of such studies in model organisms with studies of emotion in humans, but also suggests a revision of how emotion should be operationalized within psychology and psychiatry. Copyright © 2014 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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              Amygdala interneuron subtypes control fear learning through disinhibition.

              Learning is mediated by experience-dependent plasticity in neuronal circuits. Activity in neuronal circuits is tightly regulated by different subtypes of inhibitory interneurons, yet their role in learning is poorly understood. Using a combination of in vivo single-unit recordings and optogenetic manipulations, we show that in the mouse basolateral amygdala, interneurons expressing parvalbumin (PV) and somatostatin (SOM) bidirectionally control the acquisition of fear conditioning--a simple form of associative learning--through two distinct disinhibitory mechanisms. During an auditory cue, PV(+) interneurons are excited and indirectly disinhibit the dendrites of basolateral amygdala principal neurons via SOM(+) interneurons, thereby enhancing auditory responses and promoting cue-shock associations. During an aversive footshock, however, both PV(+) and SOM(+) interneurons are inhibited, which boosts postsynaptic footshock responses and gates learning. These results demonstrate that associative learning is dynamically regulated by the stimulus-specific activation of distinct disinhibitory microcircuits through precise interactions between different subtypes of local interneurons.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Nature
                Nature
                Springer Science and Business Media LLC
                0028-0836
                1476-4687
                June 2016
                June 1 2016
                June 2016
                : 534
                : 7606
                : 206-212
                Article
                10.1038/nature17996
                27279213
                © 2016

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