Theses Doctoral

Prefrontal-Amygdala Circuits Regulating Fear and Safety

Stujenske, Joseph Matthew

Switching between a state of fear and safety is a critical aspect of adaptive behavior. Aversive and non-aversive associations must be formed quickly and reliably but remain malleable as these associations change dynamically. When these associations become biased towards aversive associations by traumatic and stressful circumstances, as in PTSD, fear generalization and impaired fear extinction arise. These changes are associated with reduced activity in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and enhanced activity in the basolateral amygdala (BLA). It has been hypothesized that the mPFC mediates top-down control of the BLA to signal safety. It has previously been demonstrated that synchronous activity within the mPFC-BLA circuit is strongly engaged during fear conditioning, but it is unknown how activity in this circuit changes to mediate aversive discrimination. We investigated how the mPFC and BLA cooperate to mediate successful discrimination between aversive and non-aversive stimuli both for learned and innately-valent associations. Extracellular elecrophysiological recordings were obtained simultaneously form the mPFC and BLA in mice during innate anxiety, fear discrimination, and fear extinction. Local field potentials were recorded in both structures along with single unit recordings from the BLA. We discovered that fear was associated with enhanced theta-frequency synchrony and theta-gamma coupling within the mPFC-BLA circuit. On the other hand, safety was associated with predominant mPFC-to-BLA directionality of synchronous information flow and enhanced fast gamma frequency activity in both structures. Interestingly, gamma oscillations in the BLA were strongly coupled to theta frequency activity arising in the mPFC. This data is consistent with entrainment of inhibitory circuits in the BLA by mPFC input to mediate safety.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Neurobiology and Behavior
Thesis Advisors
Gordon, Joshua A.
Siegelbaum, Steven A.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 5, 2016