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Anxiety, fear, panic: An approach to assessing the defensive behavior system across the predatory imminence continuum.

  • Hoffman, Ann N
  • Trott, Jeremy M
  • Makridis, Anna
  • Fanselow, Michael S
Publication Date
Sep 01, 2022
eScholarship - University of California
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In order to effectively thwart predation, antipredator defensive behaviors must be matched to the current spatio-temporal relationship to the predator. We have proposed a model where different defensive responses are organized along a predatory imminence continuum (PIC). The PIC is a behavior system organized as a sequence of innately programmed behavioral modes, each representing a different interaction with the predator or threat. Ranging from low threat to predator contact, the PIC categorizes defense modes as pre-encounter, post-encounter, and circa-strike, corresponding to states of anxiety, fear, and panic, respectively. This experiment examined if the same significant stressor caused overexpression of all defensive responses along the PIC, including anxiety-like behavior, freezing, and panic-like responses. Female and male mice were exposed to acute stress that consisted of a series of ten pseudorandomly presented unsignaled footshocks (or no shocks). Mice were subsequently tested on a battery of tasks to assess stress effects on pre-encounter (anxiety-like), post-encounter (fear), and circa-strike (panic-like) behaviors. Results revealed that following stress, mice exhibited increased anxiety-like behavior shown through reduced average velocity within a modified open field. Furthermore, stressed mice showed increased fear following a single footshock in a new context as well as an increase in reactivity to white noise in the original stress context, with stressed mice exhibiting a more robust circa-strike-like response than controls. Therefore, significant stress exposure influenced the defensive states of anxiety, fear, and panic across the predatory imminence continuum. This research could therefore reveal how such responses become maladaptive following traumatic stress in humans.

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