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Amygdala Activity, Fear, and Anxiety: Modulation by Stress

  • Kerry J. Ressler
    Correspondence
    Address correspondence to Kerry J. Ressler, M.D., Ph.D., Center for Behavioral Neuroscience Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University School of Medicine, 954 Gatewood Drive Atlanta, GA 30329
    Affiliations
    Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia
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      Over the past approximately 30 years, the neuroscience community has made terrific strides in its understanding of the small region in the temporal lobe named for its peculiar almond shape, the amygdala. This area now provides among the best examples of how neural circuits control specific behaviors. In terms of our depth of understanding of its afferent and efferent connections, the role of incoming signals in modulating emotion-related behavior, and the functional and anatomic results of its projection patterns, the detailed understanding of the amygdala is unsurpassed. Examination of these functions has allowed great progress in dissecting the neural circuitry of emotion regulation. It is involved in many processes, including appetitive behavior (such as affiliation, sex, and drug abuse), but its role as an integral part of the fear circuitry may be the most fully described (
      • LeDoux J.
      Brain mechanisms of emotion and emotional learning.
      ,
      • Davis M.
      The role of the amygdala in conditioned fear.
      ,
      • Whalen P.J.
      • Shin L.M.
      • McInerney S.C.
      • Fischer H.
      • Wright C.I.
      • Rauch S.L.
      A functional MRI study of human amygdala responses to facial expressions of fear versus anger.
      ). Recent work described in two articles in this issue of Biological Psychiatry (Lazaro-Munoz et al. [
      • Lazaro-Muñoz G.
      • LeDoux J.E.
      • Cain C.K.
      Sidman Instrumental Avoidance Initially Depends on Lateral and Basal Amygdala and Is Constrained by Central Amygdala-Mediated Pavlovian Processes.
      ] and Rosenkrantz et al. [
      • Rosenkranz J.A.
      • Venheim E.R.
      • Padival M.
      Chronic Stress Causes Amygdala Hyperexcitability in Rodents.
      ]) add to our understanding of the breadth of amygdala function. In particular, how does chronic stress affect amygdala processing, and conversely, how do amygdala-mediated defensive behaviors help protect against stress?
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      Linked Article

      • Sidman Instrumental Avoidance Initially Depends on Lateral and Basal Amygdala and Is Constrained by Central Amygdala-Mediated Pavlovian Processes
        Biological PsychiatryVol. 67Issue 12
        • Preview
          The lateral (LA) and central (CE), but not basal (B), amygdala nuclei are necessary for reactive Pavlovian fear responses such as freezing. The amygdala also plays a key role in the acquisition and expression of active instrumental defensive behaviors, but little is known about the specific roles of amygdala nuclei. Using a Sidman active avoidance (AA) task, we examined the necessity of LA, B, and CE for learning and performance. Pavlovian freezing was simultaneously assessed to examine the contributions of amygdala nuclei to the transition from reactive to active defensive responding.
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      • Chronic Stress Causes Amygdala Hyperexcitability in Rodents
        Biological PsychiatryVol. 67Issue 12
        • Preview
          Chronic stress is a major health concern, often leading to depression, anxiety, or when severe enough, posttraumatic stress disorder. While many studies demonstrate that the amygdala is hyperresponsive in patients with these disorders, the cellular neurophysiological effects of chronic stress on the systems that underlie psychiatric disorders, such as the amygdala, are relatively unknown.
        • Full-Text
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