Revising the Role of the Ventrolateral Periaqueductal Gray in the Fear Circuit
Wright, Kristina M. “Revising the Role of the Ventrolateral Periaqueductal Gray in the Fear Circuit”, Boston College, 2021. http://hdl.handle.net/2345/bc-ir:109159.
The ability to accurately evaluate and respond to threats is vital to survival. Disruptions in neural circuits of fear give rise to maladaptive threat responding, and have clinical implications in fear and anxiety disorders. To better inform therapeutic interventions, it is imperative that roles for regions classically associated with fear continue to be refined, and that novel nodes are incorporated into what is most certainly a larger fear circuit. In the canonical view, threat estimates are generated at the level of the amygdala and sent to the ventrolateral periaqueductal gray (vlPAG), which organizes an appropriate behavioral response, most notably freezing. Despite a multitude of studies successfully linking the vlPAG and Pavlovian fear behavior, evidence of a direct neural correlate for fear expression in the vlPAG is lacking. By contrast, a role for the caudal substantia nigra (cSN) in fear, stands apart from its canonical associations with movement and reward processes. Although there is new interest in examining a role for the nigra in fear modulation, this is essentially an uncharted area of discovery. The goals of this dissertation are three-fold. First, to propose a role for vlPAG activity in threat estimation, a function previously restricted to the upstream amygdala. Second, to scrutinize vlPAG neural activity using a novel multi-cue Pavlovian procedure and identify the long-anticipated, direct neural correlate for fear expression. Third, to present causal evidence supporting the cSN as a potential node in a circuit that most certainly extends beyond regions canonically associated with fear.