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J Neurosci. 2019 May 22;39(21):4133-4141. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2812-18.2019. Epub 2019 Mar 25.

Heightened Defensive Responses Following Subtotal Lesions of Macaque Orbitofrontal Cortex.

Author information

1
Section on the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, Laboratory of Neuropsychology, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, and.
2
Friedman Brain Institute, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, New York 10029.
3
Section on the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, Laboratory of Neuropsychology, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, and murraye@mail.nih.gov.

Abstract

Anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive attention to threat. Several brain areas, including the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), have been associated with threat processing, with more recent work implicating specialized roles for the medial and lateral subregions of the OFC in mediating specific symptoms of anxiety disorders. Virtually no causal work, however, has evaluated the role of these OFC subregions in regulating behavioral responses under threat. To address this gap, we compared male rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) with bilateral excitotoxic lesions restricted to either the lateral OFC (lOFC), targeting Walker's areas 11 and 13, or the medial OFC (mOFC), targeting Walker's area 14, to a group of unoperated controls on behavioral responses to the presentation of a fake rubber snake, fake spider, and neutral stimuli. Both lesion groups showed heightened defensive and reduced approach responses, accompanied by longer latencies to retrieve a food reward, in the presence of the threatening stimuli. Compared to unoperated controls, the mOFC lesion group also showed longer latencies to reach for rewards and a greater proportion of defensive responses (e.g., piloerection) in the presence of neutral stimuli. Thus, monkeys with mOFC lesions displayed a greater tendency to express defensive responses even in the absence of threat. Overall, our data reveal that both the mOFC and lOFC contribute to the attenuation of defensive responses. Notably, these findings, obtained following selective, excitotoxic lesions of the OFC, are diametrically opposed to the effects of aspiration lesions of OFC observed in macaques.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Engaging in adaptive defensive responses under threat promotes biological fitness. The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) has been implicated in regulating defensive responses to threat, with distinct subregions likely playing different roles. Here we tested the effects of excitotoxic damage restricted to either the lateral or medial subdivisions of the OFC in rhesus macaques. We found significantly heightened defense and reduced approach responses to threatening stimuli in both lesion groups. While lateral OFC lesions led to an increase in defense responses to the threatening stimuli, medial OFC lesions produced increases in defense responses to both threatening and neutral stimuli. Our findings provide insights into the neural regulation of defensive responses to threat and inform the etiology and treatment of anxiety disorders in humans.

KEYWORDS:

defense; emotion; fear; lesion; macaque; orbitofrontal

PMID:
30910790
PMCID:
PMC6529874
[Available on 2019-11-22]
DOI:
10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2812-18.2019

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