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PLoS One. 2012;7(7):e42111. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0042111. Epub 2012 Jul 27.

CB1 receptor autoradiographic characterization of the individual differences in approach and avoidance motivation.

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Centro Europeo per la Ricerca sul Cervello (CERC)/Santa Lucia Foundation, Rome, Italy.


Typically, approach behaviour is displayed in the context of moving towards a desired goal, while avoidance behaviour is displayed in the context of moving away from threatening or novel stimuli. In the current research, we detected three sub-populations of C57BL/6J mice that spontaneously responded with avoiding, balancing or approaching behaviours in the presence of the same conflicting stimuli. While the balancing animals reacted with balanced responses between approach and avoidance, the avoiding or approaching animals exhibited inhibitory or advance responses towards one of the conflicting inputs, respectively. Individual differences in approach and avoidance motivation might be modulated by the normal variance in the level of functioning of different systems, such as endocannabinoid system (ECS). The present research was aimed at analysing the ECS involvement on approach and avoidance behavioural processes. To this aim, in the three selected sub-populations of mice that exhibited avoiding or balancing or approaching responses in an approach/avoidance Y-maze we analysed density and functionality of CB(1) receptors as well as enzyme fatty acid amide hydrolase activity in different brain regions, including the networks functionally responsible for emotional and motivational control. The main finding of the present study demonstrates that in both approaching and avoiding animals higher CB(1) receptor density in the amygdaloidal centro-medial nuclei and in the hypothalamic ventro-medial nucleus was found when compared with the CB(1) receptor density exhibited by the balancing animals. The characterization of the individual differences to respond in a motivationally based manner is relevant to clarify how the individual differences in ECS activity are associated with differences in motivational and affective functioning.

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