The Handbook of Stress: Neuropsychological Effects on the Brain

By Cheryl D. Conrad | Go to book overview

20
What Can Fear Conditioning Tell Us
About Posttraumatic Stress Disorder?

Jacek Dębiec and Joseph E. LeDoux


Introduction

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) develops following an exposure to a severe psychological trauma. It is a common and debilitating condition with lifetime prevalence in general population around 10% (Kessler et al., 1995; Resnick et al., 1993). Adversities, such as war, increase the prevalence of PTSD up to around 30% (Farhood et al., 2006; Shalev et al., 2006; Seino et al., 2008). PTSD is characterized by three clusters of symptoms: reexperiencing of the trauma, avoidance of stimuli associated with the traumatic event, and increased arousal (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). PTSD is manifested by complex cognitive, emotional, and behavioral alterations, and many of these symptoms are unique for humans. Nevertheless, animal studies have played an essential role in better understanding of posttraumatic stress and other anxiety disorders (Sullivan et al., 2009). Much evidence indicates that learning mechanisms are involved in the development of pathological fear and anxiety (Rosen and Schulkin, 1998), and animal models have been especially useful in localizing neural circuits, as well as elucidating biochemical pathways and synaptic changes that mediate the physiological and behavioral responses of fear and anxiety (Sullivan et al., 2009).

One the most commonly used experimental models of fear learning is fear conditioning. In fear conditioning, a neutral stimulus (conditioned stimulus, CS) is paired with an aversive event (unconditioned stimulus, US), often a mild electric shock (LeDoux, 2000; Fanselow and Poulos, 2005). In rodent studies, auditory fear conditioning is most common and involves the pairing of an auditory CS, a tone, with a mild electric shock to the foot pads serving as the US (Figure 20.1).

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