A brainstem-central amygdala circuit underlies defensive responses to learned threats

Yiran Gu, Walter T. Piper, Lauren A. Branigan, Elena M. Vazey, Gary Aston-Jones, Longnian Lin, Joseph E. LeDoux, Robert M. Sears

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Abstract

Norepinephrine (NE) plays a central role in the acquisition of aversive learning via actions in the lateral nucleus of the amygdala (LA) [1, 2]. However, the function of NE in expression of aversively-conditioned responses has not been established. Given the role of the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) in the expression of such behaviors [3–5], and the presence of NE axons projections in this brain nucleus [6], we assessed the effects of NE activity in the CeA on behavioral expression using receptor-specific pharmacology and cell- and projection-specific chemogenetic manipulations. We found that inhibition and activation of locus coeruleus (LC) neurons decreases and increases freezing to aversively conditioned cues, respectively. We then show that locally inhibiting or activating LC terminals in CeA is sufficient to achieve this bidirectional modulation of defensive reactions. These findings support the hypothesis that LC projections to CeA are critical for the expression of defensive responses elicited by conditioned threats.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)640-654
Number of pages15
JournalMolecular psychiatry
Volume25
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Molecular Biology

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    Gu, Y., Piper, W. T., Branigan, L. A., Vazey, E. M., Aston-Jones, G., Lin, L., LeDoux, J. E., & Sears, R. M. (2020). A brainstem-central amygdala circuit underlies defensive responses to learned threats. Molecular psychiatry, 25(3), 640-654. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41380-019-0599-6