Stress-induced enhancement of fear conditioning and sensitization facilitates extinction-resistant and habituation-resistant fear behaviors in a novel animal model of posttraumatic stress disorder.
Corley MJ, Caruso MJ, Takahashi LK
Pending PubMed Central Publication
Physiology & Behavior
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is characterized by stress-induced symptoms including exaggerated fear memories, hypervigilance and hyperarousal. However, we are unaware of an animal model that investigates these hallmarks of PTSD especially in relation to fear extinction and habituation. Therefore, to develop a valid animal model of PTSD, we exposed rats to different intensities of footshock stress to determine their effects on either auditory predator odor fear extinction or habituation of fear sensitization. In Experiment 1, rats were exposed to acute footshock stress (no shock control, 0.4 mA, or 0.8 mA) immediately prior to auditory fear conditioning training involving the pairing of auditory clicks with a cloth containing cat odor. When presented to the conditioned auditory clicks in the next 5 days of extinction testing conducted in a runway apparatus with a hide box, rats in the two shock groups engaged in higher levels of freezing and head out vigilance-like behavior from the hide box than the no shock control group. This increase in fear behavior during extinction testing was likely due to auditory activation of the conditioned fear state because Experiment 2 demonstrated that conditioned fear behavior was not broadly increased in the absence of the conditioned auditory stimulus. Experiment 3 was then conducted to determine whether acute exposure to stress induces a habituation resistant sensitized fear state. We found that rats exposed to 0.8 mA footshock stress and subsequently tested for 5 days in the runway hide box apparatus with presentations of nonassociative auditory clicks exhibited high initial levels of freezing, followed by head out behavior and culminating in the occurrence of locomotor hyperactivity. In addition, Experiment 4 indicated that without delivery of nonassociative auditory clicks, 0.8 mA footshock stressed rats did not exhibit robust increases in sensitized freezing and locomotor hyperactivity, albeit head out vigilance-like behavior continued to be observed. In summary, our animal model provides novel information on the effects of different intensities of footshock stress, auditory-predator odor fear conditioning, and their interactions on facilitating either extinction-resistant or habituation-resistant fear-related behavior. These results lay the foundation for exciting new investigations of the hallmarks of PTSD that include the stress-induced formation and persistence of traumatic memories and sensitized fear.