Basic fear research largely employs the Pavlovian fear conditioning paradigm in rodents. While this model systems approach simplifies behavioral and biological analyses of acquisition, maintenance and expression mechanisms of conditioned fear memories, fear conditioning studies cannot address the fact that animals and humans rely on a multitude of actions and decisions to survive the breadth of risky situations in the real world. Hence, there is a need to complement fear conditioning studies with ecologically-relevant fear research that can lead to novel translational insights. This renewal application will continue to employ and enhance our ?approach food-avoid predator? paradigm to investigate the naturalistic workings of the brain?s fear system. Specifically, in Aim 1, we will examine how rats adapt their fear responses, risk-assessment and foraging decisions to more realistic and diverse risky situations by simulating hidden versus visible threats and terrestrial versus aerial predators. We will also determine the functions of fear conditioning, which has never been analyzed in a naturalistic setting, under realistic prey-predator interaction scenarios.
In Aim 2, we will utilize pharmacology, single unit recordings and optogenetics to further elaborate the neural mechanisms of fear in naturalistic risky conditions. Based on our earlier work, we hypothesize that the dorsal periaqueductal gray-amygdala pathway signals impending threats to elicit innate fear, that the reciprocal medial prefrontal cortex-amygdala circuits serve risk proximity assessment functions, and that the amygdala-hippocampal pathway provides the safety-danger boundary information for adaptive foraging decisions and strategies. This ethologically relevant project is significant (i) from a basic scientific perspective because it will advance a more naturalistic view of the fear system that will fill gaps in knowledge and predict new results, and (ii) from an applied perspective because it can lead to novel insights to develop more effective treatments for generalized anxiety, panic, phobia and posttraumatic stress disorders.

Public Health Relevance

Fear is a primitive and fundamental function of the brain that evolved to protect animals and humans from various ecological threats, such as predation. The proposed experiments in this project will simulate naturalistic predatory threat situations and apply neurobiological techniques in rats to investigate how innate fear, risk- assessment and decision-making function together as the brain's defensive system. Understanding the natural workings of the fear mechanisms and behavior will provide novel insights to developing more effective treatments for psychopathologies of fear, such as generalized anxiety, panic, phobia and posttraumatic stress disorders, which profoundly impact the quality of human life and contribute to the high cost of healthcare in the United States.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
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Vicentic, Aleksandra
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University of Washington
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Kim, Eun Joo; Kong, Mi-Seon; Park, Sang Geon et al. (2018) Dynamic coding of predatory information between the prelimbic cortex and lateral amygdala in foraging rats. Sci Adv 4:eaar7328
Huh, Yeowool; Jung, Dahee; Seo, Taeyoon et al. (2018) Brain stimulation patterns emulating endogenous thalamocortical input to parvalbumin-expressing interneurons reduce nociception in mice. Brain Stimul 11:1151-1160
Kim, Jeansok J; Jung, Min Whan (2018) Fear paradigms: The times they are a-changin'. Curr Opin Behav Sci 24:38-43
Pellman, Blake A; Schuessler, Bryan P; Tellakat, Mohini et al. (2017) Sexually Dimorphic Risk Mitigation Strategies in Rats. eNeuro 4:
Lee, Michael L; Katsuyama, Ângela M; Duge, Leanne S et al. (2016) Fragmentation of Rapid Eye Movement and Nonrapid Eye Movement Sleep without Total Sleep Loss Impairs Hippocampus-Dependent Fear Memory Consolidation. Sleep 39:2021-2031
Pellman, Blake A; Kim, Jeansok J (2016) What Can Ethobehavioral Studies Tell Us about the Brain's Fear System? Trends Neurosci 39:420-431
Kim, Eun Joo; Pellman, Blake; Kim, Jeansok J (2015) Stress effects on the hippocampus: a critical review. Learn Mem 22:411-6
Lee, Sun-Young; Park, Seong-Hae; Chung, ChiHye et al. (2015) Oxytocin Protects Hippocampal Memory and Plasticity from Uncontrollable Stress. Sci Rep 5:18540
Mobbs, Dean; Kim, Jeansok J (2015) Neuroethological studies of fear, anxiety, and risky decision-making in rodents and humans. Curr Opin Behav Sci 5:8-15
Park, Mijeong; Kim, Chong-Hyun; Jo, Seonmi et al. (2015) Chronic Stress Alters Spatial Representation and Bursting Patterns of Place Cells in Behaving Mice. Sci Rep 5:16235

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