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Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2007;31(1):18-40. Epub 2006 Apr 18.

Altered brain activity processing in high-anxiety rodents revealed by challenge paradigms and functional mapping.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology, Institute of Pharmacy and Center of Molecular Biosciences, University of Innsbruck, A-6020 Innsbruck, Austria.


Pathological anxiety involves aberrant processing of emotional information that is hypothesized to reflect perturbations in fear/anxiety pathways. The affected neurobiological substrates in patients with different anxiety disorders are just beginning to be revealed. Important leads for this research can be derived from findings obtained in psychopathologically relevant rodent models of enhanced anxiety, by revealing where in the brain neuronal processing in response to diverse challenges is different to that in animals with lower anxiety levels. Different functional mapping methods in various rodent models, including psychogenetically selected lines or genetically modified animals, have been used for this purpose. These studies show that the divergent anxiety-related behavioral response of high-anxiety- vs. normal and/or low-anxiety rodents to emotional challenges is associated with differential neuronal activation in restricted parts of proposed fear/anxiety circuitries including brain areas thought to be important in stress, emotion and memory. The identification of neuronal populations showing differential activation depends in part on the applied emotional challenge, indicating that specific facets of elicited fear or anxiety preferentially engage particular parts of the fear/anxiety circuitry. Hence, only the use of an array of different challenges will reveal most affected brain areas. A number of the neuronal substrates identified are suggested as candidate mediators of dysfunctional brain activation in pathological anxiety. Indeed, key findings revealed in these rodent models show parallels to observations in human symptom provocation studies comparing anxiety disorder patients with healthy volunteers. Work to investigate exactly which of the changed neuronal activation patterns in high-anxiety rodents has to be modulated by therapeutic drugs to achieve effective anxiolysis and via which neurochemical pathways this can be accomplished is at its early stages but has identified a small number of promising candidates. Extending these approaches should help to provide further insight into these mechanisms, revealing new leads for therapeutic targets and strategies.

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