Brain research

Stimulation of the dorsal periaqueductal gray enhances spontaneous recovery of a conditioned taste aversion.

PMID 23183042


Due to its relevance to clinical practice, extinction of learned fears has been a major focus of recent research. However, less is known about the means by which conditioned fears re-emerge (i.e., spontaneously recover) as time passes or contexts change following extinction. The periaqueductal gray represents the final common pathway mediating defensive reactions to fear and we have reported previously that the dorsolateral PAG (dlPAG) exhibits a small but reliable increase in neural activity (as measured by c-fos protein immunoreactivity) when spontaneous recovery (SR) of a conditioned taste aversion (CTA) is reduced. Here we extend these correlational studies to determine if inducing dlPAG c-fos expression through electrical brain stimulation could cause a reduction in SR of a CTA. Male Sprague-Dawley rats acquired a strong aversion to saccharin (conditioned stimulus; CS) and then underwent CTA extinction through multiple non-reinforced exposures to the CS. Following a 30-day latency period after asymptotic extinction was achieved; rats either received stimulation of the dorsal PAG (dPAG) or stimulation of closely adjacent structures. Sixty minutes following the stimulation, rats were again presented with the saccharin solution as we tested for SR of the CTA. The brain stimulation evoked c-fos expression around the tip of the electrodes. However, stimulation of the dPAG failed to reduce SR of the previously extinguished CTA. In fact, dPAG stimulation caused rats to significantly suppress their saccharin drinking (relative to controls) - indicating an enhanced SR. These data refute a cause-and-effect relationship between enhanced dPAG c-fos expression and a reduction in SR. However, they highlight a role for the dPAG in modulating SR of extinguished CTAs.