Identification of a neuronal population in the telencephalon essential for fear conditioning in zebrafish.
ABSTRACT: BACKGROUND:Fear conditioning is a form of learning essential for animal survival and used as a behavioral paradigm to study the mechanisms of learning and memory. In mammals, the amygdala plays a crucial role in fear conditioning. In teleost, the medial zone of the dorsal telencephalon (Dm) has been postulated to be a homolog of the mammalian amygdala by anatomical and ablation studies, showing a role in conditioned avoidance response. However, the neuronal populations required for a conditioned avoidance response via the Dm have not been functionally or genetically defined. RESULTS:We aimed to identify the neuronal population essential for fear conditioning through a genetic approach in zebrafish. First, we performed large-scale gene trap and enhancer trap screens, and created transgenic fish lines that expressed Gal4FF, an engineered version of the Gal4 transcription activator, in specific regions in the brain. We then crossed these Gal4FF-expressing fish with the effector line carrying the botulinum neurotoxin gene downstream of the Gal4 binding sequence UAS, and analyzed the double transgenic fish for active avoidance fear conditioning. We identified 16 transgenic lines with Gal4FF expression in various brain areas showing reduced performance in avoidance responses. Two of them had Gal4 expression in populations of neurons located in subregions of the Dm, which we named 120A-Dm neurons. Inhibition of the 120A-Dm neurons also caused reduced performance in Pavlovian fear conditioning. The 120A-Dm neurons were mostly glutamatergic and had projections to other brain regions, including the hypothalamus and ventral telencephalon. CONCLUSIONS:Herein, we identified a subpopulation of neurons in the zebrafish Dm essential for fear conditioning. We propose that these are functional equivalents of neurons in the mammalian pallial amygdala, mediating the conditioned stimulus-unconditioned stimulus association. Thus, the study establishes a basis for understanding the evolutionary conservation and diversification of functional neural circuits mediating fear conditioning in vertebrates.
Project description:A form of aversively motivated learning called fear conditioning occurs when a neutral conditioned stimulus is paired with an aversive unconditioned stimulus (UCS). UCS-evoked depolarization of amygdala neurons may instruct Hebbian plasticity that stores memories of the conditioned stimulus-unconditioned stimulus association, but the origin of UCS inputs to the amygdala is unknown. Theory and evidence suggest that instructive UCS inputs to the amygdala will be inhibited when the UCS is expected, but this has not been found during fear conditioning. We investigated neural pathways that relay information about the UCS to the amygdala by recording neurons in the amygdala and periaqueductal gray (PAG) of rats during fear conditioning. UCS-evoked responses in both amygdala and PAG were inhibited by expectation. Pharmacological inactivation of the PAG attenuated UCS-evoked responses in the amygdala and impaired acquisition of fear conditioning, indicating that PAG may be an important part of the pathway that relays instructive signals to the amygdala.
Project description:The amygdala is known to have a crucial role in both the acquisition and extinction of conditioned fear, but the physiological changes and biochemical mechanisms underlying these forms of learning are only partly understood. The Ras effector Rin1 activates Abl tyrosine kinases and Rab5 GTPases and is highly expressed in mature neurons of the telencephalon including the amygdala, where it inhibits the acquisition of fear memories (Rin1(-/-) mice show enhanced learning of conditioned fear). Here we report that Rin1(-/-) mice exhibit profound deficits in both latent inhibition and fear extinction, suggesting a critical role for Rin1 in gating the acquisition and persistence of cue-dependent fear conditioning. Surprisingly, we also find that depotentiation, a proposed cellular mechanism of extinction, is enhanced at lateral-basolateral (LA-BLA) amygdaloid synapses in Rin1(-/-) mice. Inhibition of a single Rin1 downstream effector pathway, the Abl tyrosine kinases, led to reduced amygdaloid depotentiation, arguing that proper coordination of Abl and Rab5 pathways is critical for Rin1-mediated effects on plasticity. While demonstrating a correlation between amygdala plasticity and fear learning, our findings argue against models proposing a direct causative relationship between amygdala depotentiation and fear extinction. Taken together, the behavior and physiology of Rin1(-/-) mice provide new insights into the regulation of memory acquisition and maintenance. In addition, Rin1(-/-) mice should prove useful as a model for pathologies marked by enhanced fear acquisition and retention, such as posttraumatic stress disorder.
Project description:The central amygdala (Ce), particularly its medial sector (CeM), is the main output station of the amygdala for conditioned fear responses. However, there is uncertainty regarding the nature of CeM control over conditioned fear. The present study aimed to clarify this question using unit recordings in rats. Fear conditioning caused most CeM neurons to increase their conditioned stimulus (CS) responsiveness. The next day, CeM cells responded similarly during the recall test, but these responses disappeared as extinction of conditioned fear progressed. In contrast, the CS elicited no significant average change in central lateral (CeL) firing rates during fear conditioning and a small but significant reduction during the recall test. Yet, cell-by-cell analyses disclosed large but heterogeneous CS-evoked responses in CeL. By the end of fear conditioning, roughly equal proportions of CeL cells exhibited excitatory (CeL(+)) or inhibitory (CeL(-)) CS-evoked responses (?10%). The next day, the proportion of CeL(-) cells tripled with no change in the incidence of CeL(+) cells, suggesting that conditioning leads to overnight synaptic plasticity in an inhibitory input to CeL(-) cells. As in CeM, extinction training caused the disappearance of CS-evoked activity in CeL. Overall, these findings suggest that conditioned freezing depends on increased CeM responses to the CS. The large increase in the incidence of CeL(-) but not CeL(+) cells from conditioning to recall leads us to propose a model of fear conditioning involving the potentiation of an extrinsic inhibitory input (from the amygdala or elsewhere) to CeL, ultimately leading to disinhibition of CeM neurons.
Project description:In contextual fear conditioning, experimental subjects learn to associate a neutral context with an aversive stimulus and display fear responses to a context that predicts danger. Although the hippocampal-amygdala pathway has been implicated in the retrieval of contextual fear memory, the mechanism by which fear memory is encoded in this circuit has not been investigated. Here, we show that activity in the ventral CA1 (vCA1) hippocampal projections to the basal amygdala (BA), paired with aversive stimuli, contributes to encoding conditioned fear memory. Contextual fear conditioning induced selective strengthening of a subset of vCA1-BA synapses, which was prevented under anisomycin-induced retrograde amnesia. Moreover, a subpopulation of BA neurons receives stronger monosynaptic inputs from context-responding vCA1 neurons, whose activity was required for contextual fear learning and synaptic potentiation in the vCA1-BA pathway. Our study suggests that synaptic strengthening of vCA1 inputs conveying contextual information to a subset of BA neurons contributes to encoding adaptive fear memory for the threat-predictive context.
Project description:Recent findings implicate the central lateral amygdala (CeL) in conditioned fear. Indeed, CeL contains neurons exhibiting positive (CeL-On) or negative (CeL-Off) responses to fear-inducing conditioned stimuli (CSs). In mice, these cells differ in their expression of protein kinase C? (PKC?) and physiological properties. CeL-Off cells are PKC?(+) and late firing (LF), whereas CeL-On cells are PKC?(-) and express a regular-spiking (RS) or low-threshold bursting (LTB) phenotype. However, the scarcity of LF cells in rats raises questions about the correspondence between the organization of CeL in mice and rats. Therefore, we studied the PKC? expression, morphological properties, synaptic responsiveness, and fear conditioning-induced plasticity of rat CeL neurons. No PKC?(+) LF cells were encountered, but ?20-25% of RS and LTB neurons were PKC?(+). Compared with RS neurons, a higher proportion of LTB cells projected to central medial amygdala (CeM) and they had fewer primary dendritic branches, yet the amplitude of excitatory postsynaptic potentials (EPSPs) evoked by lateral amygdala (LA) stimulation was similar in RS and LTB cells. In contrast, LA-evoked inhibitory postsynaptic potentials (IPSPs) had a higher amplitude in LTB than RS neurons. Finally, fear conditioning did not induce plasticity at LA inputs to RS or LTB neurons. These findings point to major species differences in the organization of CeL. Since rat LTB cells are subjected to stronger feedforward inhibition, they are more likely to exhibit inhibitory CS responses than RS cells. This is expected to cause a disinhibition of CeM fear output neurons and therefore an increase in fear expression.
Project description:Serotonin receptor 1A knockout (Htr1a(KO)) mice show increased anxiety-related behavior in tests measuring innate avoidance. Here we demonstrate that Htr1a(KO) mice show enhanced fear conditioning to ambiguous conditioned stimuli, a hallmark of human anxiety. To examine the involvement of specific forebrain circuits in this phenotype, we developed a pharmacogenetic technique for the rapid tissue- and cell type-specific silencing of neural activity in vivo. Inhibition of neurons in the central nucleus of the amygdala suppressed conditioned responses to both ambiguous and nonambiguous cues. In contrast, inhibition of hippocampal dentate gyrus granule cells selectively suppressed conditioned responses to ambiguous cues and reversed the knockout phenotype. These data demonstrate that Htr1a(KO) mice have a bias in the processing of threatening cues that is moderated by hippocampal mossy-fiber circuits, and suggest that the hippocampus is important in the response to ambiguous aversive stimuli.
Project description:Although aversive memory has been mainly addressed by analysing the changes occurring in average populations, the study of neuronal mechanisms of outliers allows understanding the involvement of individual differences in fear conditioning and extinction. We recently developed an innovative experimental model of individual differences in approach and avoidance behaviors, classifying the mice as Approaching, Balancing or Avoiding animals according to their responses to conflicting stimuli. The approach and avoidance behaviors appear to be the primary reactions to rewarding and threatening stimuli and may represent predictors of vulnerability (or resilience) to fear. We submitted the three mice phenotypes to Contextual Fear Conditioning. In comparison to Balancing animals, Approaching and Avoiding mice exhibited no middle- or long-term fear extinction. The two non-extinguishing phenotypes exhibited potentiated glutamatergic neurotransmission (spontaneous excitatory postsynaptic currents/spinogenesis) of pyramidal neurons of medial prefrontal cortex and basolateral amygdala. Basing on the a priori individuation of outliers, we demonstrated that the maintenance of aversive memories is linked to increased spinogenesis and excitatory signaling in the amygdala-prefrontal cortex fear matrix.
Project description:Associative conditioning is a ubiquitous form of learning throughout the animal kingdom and fear conditioning is one of the most widely researched models for studying its neurobiological basis. Fear conditioning is also considered a model system for understanding phobias and anxiety disorders. A fundamental issue in fear conditioning regards the existence and location of neurons in the brain that receive convergent information about the conditioned stimulus (CS) and unconditioned stimulus (US) during the acquisition of conditioned fear memory. Convergent activation of neurons is generally viewed as a key event for fear learning, yet there has been almost no direct evidence of this critical event in the mammalian brain.Here, we used Arc cellular compartmental analysis of temporal gene transcription by fluorescence in situ hybridization (catFISH) to identify neurons activated during single trial contextual fear conditioning in rats. To conform to temporal requirements of catFISH analysis we used a novel delayed contextual fear conditioning protocol which yields significant single- trial fear conditioning with temporal parameters amenable to catFISH analysis. Analysis yielded clear evidence that a population of BLA neurons receives convergent CS and US information at the time of the learning, that this only occurs when the CS-US arrangement is supportive of the learning, and that this process requires N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor activation. In contrast, CS-US convergence was not observed in dorsal hippocampus.Based on the pattern of Arc activation seen in conditioning and control groups, we propose that a key requirement for CS-US convergence onto BLA neurons is the potentiation of US responding by prior exposure to a novel CS. Our results also support the view that contextual fear memories are encoded in the amygdala and that the role of dorsal hippocampus is to process and transmit contextual CS information.
Project description:Following reports of emotional psychopathology in children and adults exposed to organophosphates, the effects of postnatal chlorpyrifos (CPF) on fear-conditioning and depression-like behaviors were tested in adult mice. Concomitant changes in expression of mRNA for synaptic and soluble splice variants of acetylcholinesterase (AChE) were examined in mouse pups and adults of the Balb/C and C57Bl/6 (B6) strains, which differ in their behavioral and hormonal stress response. Mice were injected subcutaneously with 1 mg/kg CPF on postnatal days 4-10 and tested as adults for conditioned fear, sucrose preference, and forced swim. Acetylcholinesterase activity was assessed in the brains of pups on the first and last day of treatment. Expression of soluble and synaptic AChE mRNA was assessed in brains of treated pups and fear-conditioned adults using real-time PCR. Adult Balb/C mice exposed postnatally to CPF showed exacerbated fear-conditioning and impaired active avoidance. Adult B6 mice exposed postnatally to CPF showed a more specific fear response to tones and less freezing in the inter-tone intervals, in contrast to the vehicle-pretreated mice. Chlorpyrifos also attenuated sweet preference and enhanced climbing in the forced swim test. Chlorpyrifos-treated mice had increased expression of both synaptic and readthrough AChE transcripts in the hippocampus of Balb/C mice and decreased expression in the amygdala following fear-conditioning. In conclusion, postnatal CPF had long-term effects on fear and depression, as well as on expression of AChE mRNA. These changes may be related to alteration in the interaction between hippocampus and amygdala in regulating negative emotions.
Project description:The basal nucleus of the amygdala (BA) is involved in the formation of context-dependent conditioned fear and extinction memories. To understand the underlying neural mechanisms we developed a large-scale neuron network model of the BA, composed of excitatory and inhibitory leaky-integrate-and-fire neurons. Excitatory BA neurons received conditioned stimulus (CS)-related input from the adjacent lateral nucleus (LA) and contextual input from the hippocampus or medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). We implemented a plasticity mechanism according to which CS and contextual synapses were potentiated if CS and contextual inputs temporally coincided on the afferents of the excitatory neurons. Our simulations revealed a differential recruitment of two distinct subpopulations of BA neurons during conditioning and extinction, mimicking the activation of experimentally observed cell populations. We propose that these two subgroups encode contextual specificity of fear and extinction memories, respectively. Mutual competition between them, mediated by feedback inhibition and driven by contextual inputs, regulates the activity in the central amygdala (CEA) thereby controlling amygdala output and fear behavior. The model makes multiple testable predictions that may advance our understanding of fear and extinction memories.