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Transl Psychiatry. 2019 Jan 22;9(1):33. doi: 10.1038/s41398-019-0368-y.

Assessment of fear and anxiety associated behaviors, physiology and neural circuits in rats with reduced serotonin transporter (SERT) levels.

Author information

1
Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, IN, USA. philjohn@iupui.edu.
2
Stark Neurosciences Research Institute, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, IN, USA. philjohn@iupui.edu.
3
Stark Neurosciences Research Institute, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, IN, USA.
4
Department of Psychiatry, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, IN, USA.
5
Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, IN, USA.
6
Program in Medical Neurosciences, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, IN, USA.
7
School of Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, NSW, Australia.

Abstract

Genetic variation in serotonin transporter (SERT) that reduces transcriptional efficiency is associated with higher anxiety and fear traits and a greater incidence of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Although previous studies have shown that rats with no expression of SERT (SERT-/-) have increased baseline anxiety behaviors, SERT+/- rats with low SERT expression (and more relevant to the clinical condition with low SERT expression) do not. Yet, no systematic studies of fear acquisition/extinction or their underlying neural mechanisms have been conducted in this preclinical genetic SERT+/- model. Here we sought to determine if SERT+/- or SERT-/-, compared to wildtype, rats would show exacerbated panic responses and/or persistent conditioned fear responses that may be associated with PTSD or phobia vulnerability. Results: Only SERT-/- rats showed increased baseline anxiety-like behaviors with heightened panic respiratory responses. However SERT+/- (also SERT-/-) rats showed enhanced acquisition of fear and delayed extinction of fear that was associated with changes in serotonergic-related genes (e.g., reduced 5-HT1A receptor) and disrupted inhibition within the basolateral amygdala (BLA). Furthermore, the disrupted fear responses in SERT+/- rats were normalized with 5HT1A antagonist infusions into the BLA. Enhanced acquisition and failure to extinguish fear memories displayed by both SERT-/- and SERT+/- rats are cardinal symptoms of disabling anxiety disorders such as phobias and PTSD. The data here support the hypothesis that reduced SERT function is a genetic risk that disrupts select gene expression and network properties in the amygdala that could result in vulnerability to these syndromes.

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