Unconditioned freezing is enhanced in an appetitive context: Implications for the contextual dependency of unconditioned fear
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It has been well established that expression of conditioned fear is context independent, but the context dependency of unconditioned fear expression has rarely been explored. A recent study reported that unconditioned freezing in rats is enhanced in a familiar context, which suggests that unconditioned fear expression can be modulated by contextual processing. In order to further explore this possibility we examined unconditioned freezing in novel, familiar, and appetitive contexts; and attempted to identify brain regions critical for context-related changes in unconditioned freezing by measuring c-Fos mRNA levels in emotional circuits. Unconditioned freezing was enhanced in the appetitive context, and this enhancement was accompanied by increased c-Fos mRNA expression in the medial amygdala and hippocampus, but attenuated expression in the medial prefrontal cortex. In the appetitive context, expectation of a reward coupled with detection of threat may have enhanced unconditioned fear expression, which suggests that unconditioned fear expression can be modulated by contextual factors. Context-related expectancy mismatch may explain the enhancement of unconditioned fear expression seen in this study and warrants further examination.
author list (cited authors)
Knox, D., Fitzpatrick, C. J., George, S. A., Abelson, J. L., & Liberzon, I.