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Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2011 Jan 15;35(1):67-73. doi: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2010.08.023. Epub 2010 Sep 9.

Fear conditioning fragments REM sleep in stress-sensitive Wistar-Kyoto, but not Wistar, rats.

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  • 1Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, Box 80, 600 South 43rd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


Pavlovian conditioning is commonly used to investigate the mechanisms of fear learning. Because the Wistar-Kyoto (WKY) rat strain is particularly stress-sensitive, we investigated the effects of a psychological stressor on sleep in WKY compared to Wistar (WIS) rats. Male WKY and WIS rats were either fear-conditioned to tone cues or received electric foot shocks alone. In the fear-conditioning procedure, animals were exposed to 10 tones (800 Hz, 90 dB, 5s), each co-terminating with a foot shock (1.0 mA, 0.5s), at 30-s intervals. In the shock stress procedure, animals received 10 foot shocks at 30-s intervals, without tones. All subjects underwent a tone-only test both 24h (Day 1) and again two weeks (Day 14) later. Rapid eye movement sleep (REMS) continuity was investigated by partitioning REMS episodes into single (inter-REMS episode interval >3 min) and sequential (interval ≤ 3 min) episodes. In the fear-conditioned group, freezing increased from baseline in both strains, but the increase was maintained on Day 14 in WKY rats only. In fear-conditioned WKY rats, total REMS amount increased on Day 1, sequential REMS amount increased on Day 1 and Day 14, and single REMS amount decreased on Day 14. Alterations were due to changes in the number of sequential and single REMS episodes. Shock stress had no significant effect on REMS microarchitecture in either strain. The shift toward sequential REMS in fear-conditioned WKY rats may represent REMS fragmentation, and may provide a model for investigating the neurobiological mechanisms of sleep disturbances reported in posttraumatic stress disorder.

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