DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): Anxiety and depression are amongst the most prevalent psychiatric disorders, striking over 40 million new adults in the United States each year. However, therapeutic interventions are limited by our incomplete knowledge of the neural circuitry underlying aversive information processing. Although we know a great deal about how fear associations are acquired, and how they can produce more passive responses such as freezing, we know far less about how fear learning directs active behaviors that may help an animal escape or avoid dangerous situations. Both the basolateral amygdala (BLA) and nucleus accumbens (NAc) are known to be important for emotional learning and motivated behavior, but it is unknown how these structures work together to support active behavioral responses to aversive stimuli. We hypothesize that coordination of BLA and NAc neuronal activity allows active reorganization of behavior in response to aversive cues. To test this, we will use behavioral and electrophysiological techniques to explore 1) whether functional communication between the BLA and NAc is necessary to allow active reorganization or 'switching' of behavioral strategies and 2) how aversive cues that direct different types of behavioral outcomes are represented in firing patterns within the NAc and BLA. This work is expected to provide novel insight into the neural substrates underlying emotion and motivation, while providing advanced training in behavioral and electrophysiological methods in an exceptional environment.
PUBLIC HEALTH RELEVANCE: Anxiety and depression are amongst the most prevalent psychiatric disorders in the United States, and typically involve dysregulation of motivational responses to emotionally-salient cues. This proposal addresses the fundamental mechanisms by which key neural circuits normally process such cues to appropriately organize behavioral responses. Success in this project would significantly advance our understanding of both normal and pathological emotional states.