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Br J Pharmacol. 2014 Oct;171(20):4556-74. doi: 10.1111/bph.12643. Epub 2014 Jul 1.

Developmental rodent models of fear and anxiety: from neurobiology to pharmacology.

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Behavioural Neuroscience Division, The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, Parkville, VIC, Australia; Florey Department of Neuroscience and Mental Health, University of Melbourne, Parkville, VIC, Australia.


Anxiety disorders pose one of the biggest threats to mental health in the world, and they predominantly emerge early in life. However, research of anxiety disorders and fear-related memories during development has been largely neglected, and existing treatments have been developed based on adult models of anxiety. The present review describes animal models of anxiety disorders across development and what is currently known of their pharmacology. To summarize, the underlying mechanisms of intrinsic 'unlearned' fear are poorly understood, especially beyond the period of infancy. Models using 'learned' fear reveal that through development, rats exhibit a stress hyporesponsive period before postnatal day 10, where they paradoxically form odour-shock preferences, and then switch to more adult-like conditioned fear responses. Juvenile rats appear to forget these aversive associations more easily, as is observed with the phenomenon of infantile amnesia. Juvenile rats also undergo more robust extinction, until adolescence where they display increased resistance to extinction. Maturation of brain structures, such as the amygdala, prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, along with the different temporal recruitment and involvement of various neurotransmitter systems (including NMDA, GABA, corticosterone and opioids) are responsible for these developmental changes. Taken together, the studies described in this review highlight that there is a period early in development where rats appear to be more robust in overcoming adverse early life experience. We need to understand the fundamental pharmacological processes underlying anxiety early in life in order to take advantage of this period for the treatment of anxiety disorders.

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