TitleStressed rats fail to exhibit avoidance reactions to innately aversive social calls.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsShukla A, Chattarji S
Date Published2021 Nov 30

Disruptions in amygdalar function, a brain area involved in encoding emotionally salient information, has been implicated in stress-related affective disorders. Earlier animal studies on the behavioral consequences of stress-induced abnormalities in the amygdala focused on learned behaviors using fear conditioning paradigms. If and how stress affects unconditioned, innate fear responses to ethologically natural aversive stimuli remains unexplored. Hence, we subjected rats to aversive ultrasonic vocalization calls emitted on one end of a linear track. Unstressed control rats exhibited a robust avoidance response by spending more time away from the source of the playback calls. Unexpectedly, prior exposure to chronic immobilization stress prevented this avoidance reaction, rather than enhancing it. Further, this stress-induced impairment extended to other innately aversive stimuli, such as white noise and electric shock in an inhibitory avoidance task. However, conditioned fear responses were enhanced by the same stress. Inactivation of the basolateral amygdala (BLA) in control rats prevented this avoidance reaction evoked by the playback. Consistent with this, analysis of the immediate early gene cFos revealed higher activity in the BLA of control, but not stressed rats, after exposure to the playback. Further, in vivo recordings in freely behaving control rats exposed to playback showed enhanced theta activity in the BLA, which also was absent in stressed rats. These findings offer a new framework for studying stress-induced alterations in amygdala-dependent maladaptive responses to more naturally threatening and emotionally relevant social stimuli. The divergent impact of stress on defensive responses--impaired avoidance responses together with increased conditioned fear--also has important implications for models of learned helplessness and depression.

Alternate JournalNeuropsychopharmacology
PubMed ID34848856