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Brain Res. 2000 Jul 7;870(1-2):135-41.

The involvement of ventral tegmental area cholinergic muscarinic receptors in classically conditioned fear expression as measured with fear-potentiated startle.

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Department of Psychology, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch, New Zealand.


Accumulating evidence suggests that dopamine (DA) neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) contribute to the complex amygdala-based neurocircuitry that mediates fear-motivated behaviors. Because of acetylcholine's (ACh) role in DA neuronal activation, the involvement of VTA cholinergic muscarinic receptors in Pavlovian conditioned fear responding was evaluated in the present study. Fear-potentiated startle was used to assess the effects of intraVTA infused methylscopolamine on conditioned fear performance in laboratory rats. Application of this nonspecific muscarinic receptor antagonist to VTA neurons was observed to inhibit the ability of a conditioned stimulus (CS) previously paired with footshock to enhance the amplitude of the acoustic startle reflex. Doses of methylscopolamine that blocked conditioned fear expression did not alter baseline sensorimotor responding. These results identify ACh neurotransmission in the VTA as a potential excitatory mechanism underlying the fear-arousing properties of threatening environmental stimuli.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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