Recent work in our laboratory has shown that cyclic fear can prevail over entrainment of circadian rhythms by the light-dark (LD) cycle and lead to diurnal foraging and feeding in nocturnal rodents. When mice or rats are housed in a cage setup in which they need to leave a safe nesting area to access a foraging area for food and water, they forage and feed during the dark phase of the LD cycle. If the foraging area is rendered dangerous with random footshocks during the active dark phase, the animals? foraging and feeding activity shifts to the light phase. This switch to diurnal behavior represents the output of a circadian oscillator, which is entrained by the cyclic fear stimulus, and is dependent on an intact suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), where the master clock resides, and an intact amygdala, which encodes fear perception. Our working hypothesis for this proposal is that a circadian oscillator within the amygdala is entrained by cyclic fear and leads to a shift in the timing of foraging and feeding behavior.
Specific Aim 1 will determine whether cyclic nocturnal fear entrains the circadian oscillators in the amygdala and/or the SCN in animals entrained to cyclic fear under LD or constant darkness (DD) conditions.
Specific Aim 2 will determine whether cyclic fear can also entrain the circadian rhythms of foraging and feeding in female mice, and whether sex differences are explained by the ovarian hormone regulation.
Specific Aim 3 will determine whether the evocation of fear by electrical or optogenetic stimulation of the basolateral amygdala (BLA) during the dark phase is sufficient to induce entrainment of feeding and foraging, and whether the activation of the BLA is necessary for fear entrainment by optogenetically inhibiting it while animals are exposed to the fear stimulus.
This Aim will also assess whether in vitro optogenetic stimulation of the amygdala is sufficient to locally entrain the amygdala circadian oscillator.
Specific Aim 4 A,B will exploit region-specific KOs of the clock gene Bmal1 or global KOs of the clock genes Per1 and Per2 to determine whether canonical molecular clock of mammals is part of the fear-entrained oscillator.
Aim 4 C will assess whether amygdala-specific Bmal1 KOS fail to entrain to cyclic fear. Our finding that nocturnal fear entrains circadian rhythms indicates that limbic centers that encode fear are part of the circuitry that orchestrates circadian rhythms. It also provides a uniquely tractable system to unmask how the master circadian clock within the SCN and the amygdala integrate photic and fear cues to time complex behavioral processes. Circadian and sleep disorders are a hallmark of anxiety and fear disorders such as post- traumatic stress disorder; our findings could shed light into the neural mechanisms that link trauma to the regulation of sleep and circadian rhythms.

Public Health Relevance

Biological rhythms such as the sleep-wake cycle are regulated by a master circadian clock in the brain that is synchronized by environmental cycles. We have recently found that a cyclic fearful stimulus that occurs during the night, when nocturnal rodents are foraging and feeding, leads to a switch in the timing of these behaviors to the daytime; this switch is the result of the synchronization of a circadian clock by the cyclic nocturnal fear. The goal of this proposal is to unmask the neural mechanisms behind this clock, which may provide answers to why sleep disorders are a hallmark of fear and anxiety disorders such as post- traumatic stress disorder.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
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He, Janet
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University of Washington
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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