Acquisition of Pavlovian fear conditioning using β-adrenoceptor activation of the dorsal premammillary nucleus as an unconditioned stimulus to mimic live predator-threat exposure.
In the present work, we sought to mimic the internal state changes in response to a predator threat by pharmacologically stimulating the brain circuit involved in mediating predator fear responses, and explored whether this stimulation would be a valuable unconditioned stimulus (US) in an olfactory fear conditioning paradigm (OFC). The dorsal premammillary nucleus (PMd) is a key brain structure in the neural processing of anti-predatory defensive behavior and has also been shown to mediate the acquisition and expression of anti-predatory contextual conditioning fear responses. Rats were conditioned by pairing the US, which was an intra-PMd microinjection of isoproterenol (ISO; β-adrenoceptor agonist), with amyl acetate odor-the conditioned stimulus (CS). ISO (10 and 40 nmol) induced the acquisition of the OFC and the second-order association by activation of β-1 receptors in the PMd. Furthermore, similar to what had been found for contextual conditioning to a predator threat, atenolol (β-1 receptor antagonist) in the PMd also impaired the acquisition and expression of OFC promoted by ISO. Considering the strong glutamatergic projections from the PMd to the dorsal periaqueductal gray (dPAG), we tested how the glutamatergic blockade of the dPAG would interfere with the OFC induced by ISO. Accordingly, microinjections of NMDA receptor antagonist (AP5, 6 nmol) into the dPAG were able to block both the acquisition, and partially, the expression of the OFC. In conclusion, we have found that PMd β-1 adrenergic stimulation is a good model to mimic predatory threat-induced internal state changes, and works as a US able to mobilize the same systems involved in the acquisition and expression of predator-related contextual conditioning.