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Neuropsychopharmacology. 2012 May;37(6):1534-47. doi: 10.1038/npp.2011.340. Epub 2012 Feb 15.

Genetic strain differences in learned fear inhibition associated with variation in neuroendocrine, autonomic, and amygdala dendritic phenotypes.

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Laboratory of Behavioral and Genomic Neuroscience, NIAAA, Bethesda, MD, USA.


Mood and anxiety disorders develop in some but not all individuals following exposure to stress and psychological trauma. However, the factors underlying individual differences in risk and resilience for these disorders, including genetic variation, remain to be determined. Isogenic inbred mouse strains provide a valuable approach to elucidating these factors. Here, we performed a comprehensive examination of the extinction-impaired 129S1/SvImJ (S1) inbred mouse strain for multiple behavioral, autonomic, neuroendocrine, and corticolimbic neuronal morphology phenotypes. We found that S1 exhibited fear overgeneralization to ambiguous contexts and cues, impaired context extinction and impaired safety learning, relative to the (good-extinguishing) C57BL/6J (B6) strain. Fear overgeneralization and impaired extinction was rescued by treatment with the front-line anxiety medication fluoxetine. Telemetric measurement of electrocardiogram signals demonstrated autonomic disturbances in S1 including poor recovery of fear-induced suppression of heart rate variability. S1 with a history of chronic restraint stress displayed an attenuated corticosterone (CORT) response to a novel, swim stressor. Conversely, previously stress-naive S1 showed exaggerated CORT responses to acute restraint stress or extinction training, insensitivity to dexamethasone challenge, and reduced hippocampal CA3 glucocorticoid receptor mRNA, suggesting downregulation of negative feedback control of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Analysis of neuronal morphology in key neural nodes within the fear and extinction circuit revealed enlarged dendritic arbors in basolateral amygdala neurons in S1, but normal infralimbic cortex and prelimbic cortex dendritic arborization. Collectively, these data provide convergent support for the utility of the S1 strain as a tractable model for elucidating the neural, molecular and genetic basis of persistent, excessive fear.

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