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Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2008 Sep;32(7):1267-76. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2008.05.006. Epub 2008 May 13.

Analysis of behavioral constraints and the neuroanatomy of fear to the predator odor trimethylthiazoline: a model for animal phobias.

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  • 1Behavioral Neuroscience Program, Department of Psychology, University of Delaware, 108 Wolf Hall, Newark, DE 19716, United States.


Specific phobias, including animal phobias, are the most common anxiety disorders, and have a strong innate and genetic component. Research on the neurobiology and environmental constraints of innate fear of predators in rodents may be useful in elucidating mechanisms of animal phobias in humans. The present article reviews research on innate fear in rats to trimethylthiazoline (TMT), an odor originally isolated from fox feces. TMT induces unconditioned freezing and other defensive responses that are regulated by the dose of TMT and the shape of the testing environment. Contextual conditioning induced by TMT occurs, but is constrained by the environment. Lesion studies indicate the amygdala circuitry subserving fear conditioning is not necessary for unconditioned fear to TMT. Additionally, a medial hypothalamic defensive circuit also appears not necessary for unconditioned freezing to TMT, whereas circuits that include the medial nucleus of the amygdala and the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis are essential. The importance of these findings of innate predator odor fear in rodents to animal phobias in humans is discussed.

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