Journal of neuroscience research

Blockade of NMDA receptors and nitric oxide synthesis in the dorsolateral periaqueductal gray attenuates behavioral and cellular responses of rats exposed to a live predator.

PMID 19360885


Innate fear stimulus induces activation of neurons containing the neuronal nitric oxide synthase enzyme (nNOS) in defensive-related brain regions such as the dorsolateral periaqueductal gray (dlPAG). Intra-dlPAG administration of nitric oxide synthase (NOS) inhibitors and glutamate antagonists induce anxiolytic-like responses. We investigated the involvement of nitric oxide (NO) and glutamate neurotransmission in defensive reactions modulated by dlPAG. We tested if intra-dlPAG injections of the selective nNOS inhibitor, N-propyl-L-arginine (NP), or the glutamate antagonist, AP7 (2-amino-7-phosphonoheptanoic acid), would attenuate behavioral responses and cellular activation induced by predator exposure (cat). Fos-like immunoreactivity (FLI) was used as a marker of neuronal functional activation, whereas nNOS immunohistochemistry was used to identify NOS neurons. Cat exposure induced fear responses and an increase of FLI in the dlPAG and dorsal premammillary nucleus (PMd). NP and AP7 attenuated the cat-induced behavioral responses. Whereas NP tended to attenuate FLI in the dlPAG, AP7 induced a significant reduction in cellular activation of this region. The latter drug, however, increased FLI and double-labeled cells in the PMd. Cellular activation of this region was significantly correlated with time spent near the cat (r = 0.7597 and 0.6057 for FLI and double-labeled cells). These results suggest that glutamate/NO-mediated neurotransmission in the dlPAG plays an important role in responses elicit by predator exposure. Blocking these neurotransmitter systems in this brain area impairs defensive responses. The longer time spent near the predator that follows AP7 effect could lead to an increased cellular activation of the PMd, a more rostral brain area that has also been related to defensive responses.