Dissecting the brain’s fear systems responding to snake threats

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We examined the behavioral responses and Fos expression pattern of rats that were exposed to snake threats from shed snakeskin and a live snake. We differentiated the behavioral responses and the pattern of Fos expression in response to the odor cues and mild threat from a live snake. Animals exposed to the snake odor alone or to the confined snake showed a great deal of risk assessment. Conversely, the intensification of odor during exposure to the live snake decreased the threat ambiguity, and the animals froze for a significantly longer period. Our Fos analysis showed that a pathway formed by the posteroventral part of the medial amygdalar nucleus to the central part of the ventromedial hypothalamic nucleus appeared to be solely responsive to odor cues. In addition, we showed increased Fos expression in a parallel circuit comprising the lateral amygdalar nucleus, ventral subiculum, lateral septum and juxtadorsomedial region of the lateral hypothalamic area that is responsive to both the odor and mild threat from a live snake. This path is likely to process the environmental boundaries of the threat to be avoided. Both paths merge into the dorsal premammillary nucleus and periaqueductal gray sites, which all increase Fos expression in response to the snake threats and are likely to organize the defensive responses. Moreover, we found that the snake threat mobilized the Edinger-Westphal and supraoculomotor nuclei, which are involved in stress adaptation and attentional mechanisms.
Melleu FF., Oliveira ARD, Grego KF, Blanchard D.C, Canteras NS.. Dissecting the brain’s fear systems responding to snake threats. Eur J Neurosci. 2022 Aug; 56(6):4788-4802. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/ejn.15794.
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