Oxytocin Selectively Gates Fear Responses Through Distinct Outputs from the Central Amygdala

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Science  01 Jul 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6038, pp. 104-107
DOI: 10.1126/science.1201043

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Central amygdala (CeA) projections to hypothalamic and brain stem nuclei regulate the behavioral and physiological expression of fear, but it is unknown whether these different aspects of the fear response can be separately regulated by the CeA. We combined fluorescent retrograde tracing of CeA projections to nuclei that modulate fear-related freezing or cardiovascular responses with in vitro electrophysiological recordings and with in vivo monitoring of related behavioral and physiological parameters. CeA projections emerged from separate neuronal populations with different electrophysiological characteristics and different response properties to oxytocin. In vivo, oxytocin decreased freezing responses in fear-conditioned rats without affecting the cardiovascular response. Thus, neuropeptidergic signaling can modulate the CeA outputs through separate neuronal circuits and thereby individually steer the various aspects of the fear response.

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