Fear is maladaptive when it persists long after circumstances have become safe. It is therefore crucial to develop an approach that persistently prevents the return of fear. Pavlovian fear-conditioning paradigms are commonly employed to create a controlled, novel fear association in the laboratory. After pairing an innocuous stimulus (conditioned stimulus, CS) with an aversive outcome (unconditioned stimulus, US) we can elicit a fear response (conditioned response, or CR) by presenting just the stimulus alone1,2 . Once fear is acquired, it can be diminished using extinction training, whereby the conditioned stimulus is repeatedly presented without the aversive outcome until fear is no longer expressed3. This inhibitory learning creates a new, safe representation for the CS, which competes for expression with the original fear memory4. Although extinction is effective at inhibiting fear, it is not permanent. Fear can spontaneously recover with the passage of time. Exposure to stress or returning to the context of initial learning can also cause fear to resurface3,4.
Our protocol addresses the transient nature of extinction by targeting the reconsolidation window to modify emotional memory in a more permanent manner. Ample evidence suggests that reactivating a consolidated memory returns it to a labile state, during which the memory is again susceptible to interference5-9. This window of opportunity appears to open shortly after reactivation and close approximately 6hrs later5,11,16, although this may vary depending on the strength and age of the memory15. By allowing new information to incorporate into the original memory trace, this memory may be updated as it reconsolidates10,11. Studies involving non-human animals have successfully blocked the expression of fear memory by introducing pharmacological manipulations within the reconsolidation window, however, most agents used are either toxic to humans or show equivocal effects when used in human studies12-14. Our protocol addresses these challenges by offering an effective, yet non-invasive, behavioral manipulation that is safe for humans.
By prompting fear memory retrieval prior to extinction, we essentially trigger the reconsolidation process, allowing new safety information (i.e., extinction) to be incorporated while the fear memory is still susceptible to interference. A recent study employing this behavioral manipulation in rats has successfully blocked fear memory using these temporal parameters11. Additional studies in humans have demonstrated that introducing new information after the retrieval of previously consolidated motor16, episodic17, or declarative18 memories leads to interference with the original memory trace14. We outline below a novel protocol used to block fear recovery in humans.
14 Related JoVE Articles!
Contextual and Cued Fear Conditioning Test Using a Video Analyzing System in Mice
Institutions: Fujita Health University, Core Research for Evolutionary Science and Technology (CREST), National Institutes of Natural Sciences.
The contextual and cued fear conditioning test is one of the behavioral tests that assesses the ability of mice to learn and remember an association between environmental cues and aversive experiences. In this test, mice are placed into a conditioning chamber and are given parings of a conditioned stimulus (an auditory cue) and an aversive unconditioned stimulus (an electric footshock). After a delay time, the mice are exposed to the same conditioning chamber and a differently shaped chamber with presentation of the auditory cue. Freezing behavior during the test is measured as an index of fear memory. To analyze the behavior automatically, we have developed a video analyzing system using the ImageFZ application software program, which is available as a free download at https://www.mouse-phenotype.org/. Here, to show the details of our protocol, we demonstrate our procedure for the contextual and cued fear conditioning test in C57BL/6J mice using the ImageFZ system. In addition, we validated our protocol and the video analyzing system performance by comparing freezing time measured by the ImageFZ system or a photobeam-based computer measurement system with that scored by a human observer. As shown in our representative results, the data obtained by ImageFZ were similar to those analyzed by a human observer, indicating that the behavioral analysis using the ImageFZ system is highly reliable. The present movie article provides detailed information regarding the test procedures and will promote understanding of the experimental situation.
Behavior, Issue 85, Fear, Learning, Memory, ImageFZ program, Mouse, contextual fear, cued fear
Trace Fear Conditioning in Mice
Institutions: Baylor University, Baylor University.
In this experiment we present a technique to measure learning and memory. In the trace fear conditioning protocol presented here there are five pairings between a neutral stimulus and an unconditioned stimulus. There is a 20 sec trace period that separates each conditioning trial. On the following day freezing is measured during presentation of the conditioned stimulus (CS) and trace period. On the third day there is an 8 min test to measure contextual memory. The representative results are from mice that were presented with the aversive unconditioned stimulus (shock) compared to mice that received the tone presentations without the unconditioned stimulus. Trace fear conditioning has been successfully used to detect subtle learning and memory deficits and enhancements in mice that are not found with other fear conditioning methods. This type of fear conditioning is believed to be dependent upon connections between the medial prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus. One current controversy is whether this method is believed to be amygdala-independent. Therefore, other fear conditioning testing is needed to examine amygdala-dependent learning and memory effects, such as through the delay fear conditioning.
Behavior, Issue 85, fear conditioning, learning, trace conditioning, memory, conditioned and unconditioned stimulus, neutral stimulus, amygdala-dependent learning
A Procedure for Studying the Footshock-Induced Reinstatement of Cocaine Seeking in Laboratory Rats
Institutions: University of Toronto Scarborough.
The most insidious aspect of drug addiction is the high propensity for relapse. Animal models of relapse, known as reinstatement procedures, have been used extensively to study the neurobiology and phenomenology of relapse to drug use. Although procedural variations have emerged over the past several decades, the most conventional reinstatement procedures are based on the drug self-administration (SA) model. In this model, an animal is trained to perform an operant response to obtain drug. Subsequently, the behavior is extinguished by withholding response-contingent reinforcement. Reinstatement of drug seeking is then triggered by a discrete event, such as an injection of the training drug, re-exposure to drug-associated cues, or exposure to a stressor 1
Reinstatement procedures were originally developed to study the ability of acute non-contingent exposure to the training drug to reinstate drug seeking in rats and monkeys 1, 2
. Reinstatement procedures have since been modified to study the role of environmental stimuli, including drug-associated cues and exposure to various forms of stress, in relapse to drug seeking 1, 3, 4
Over the past 15 years, a major focus of the reinstatement literature has been on the role of stress in drug relapse. One of the most commonly used forms of stress for studying this relationship is acute exposures to mild, intermittent, electric footshocks. The ability of footshock stress to induce reinstatement of drug seeking was originally demonstrated by Shaham and colleagues (1995) in rats with a history of intravenous heroin SA5
. Subsequently, the effect was generalized to rats with histories of intravenous cocaine, methamphetamine, and nicotine SA, as well as oral ethanol SA 3, 6
Although footshock-induced reinstatement of drug seeking can be achieved reliably and robustly, it is an effect that tends to be sensitive to certain parametrical variables. These include the arrangement of extinction and reinstatement test sessions, the intensity and duration of footshock stress, and the presence of drug-associated cues during extinction and testing for reinstatement. Here we present a protocol for footshock-induced reinstatement of cocaine seeking that we have used with consistent success to study the relationship between stress and cocaine seeking.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, Relapse, Reinstatement, Cocaine, Rat, Footshock, Stress, Intravenous, Self-administration, Operant Conditioning
Stereotaxic Microinjection of Viral Vectors Expressing Cre Recombinase to Study the Role of Target Genes in Cocaine Conditioned Place Preference
Institutions: Weill Cornell Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Weill Cornell Medical College .
Microinjecting recombinant adenoassociated viral (rAAV) vectors expressing Cre recombinase into distinct mouse brain regions to selectively knockout genes of interest allows for enhanced temporally- and regionally-specific control of gene deletion, compared to existing methods. While conditional deletion can also be achieved by mating mice that express Cre recombinase under the control of specific gene promoters with mice carrying a floxed gene, stereotaxic microinjection allows for targeting of discrete brain areas at experimenter-determined time points of interest. In the context of cocaine conditioned place preference, and other cocaine behavioral paradigms such as self-administration or psychomotor sensitization that can involve withdrawal, extinction and/or reinstatement phases, this technique is particularly useful in exploring the unique contribution of target genes to these distinct phases of behavioral models of cocaine-induced plasticity. Specifically, this technique allows for selective ablation of target genes during discrete phases of a behavior to test their contribution to the behavior across time. Ultimately, this understanding allows for more targeted therapeutics that are best able to address the most potent risk factors that present themselves during each phase of addictive behavior.
Behavior, Issue 77, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Anatomy, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Molecular Biology, Pharmacology, Animals, Genetically Modified, Behavior, Animal, Drug-Seeking Behavior, Psychophysiology, Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms, viral vectors, stereotaxic surgery, microinjection, conditioned place preference, mouse, behavior, neuroscience, extinction, cocaine-induced reinstatement, animal model
A Proboscis Extension Response Protocol for Investigating Behavioral Plasticity in Insects: Application to Basic, Biomedical, and Agricultural Research
Institutions: Arizona State University.
Insects modify their responses to stimuli through experience of associating those stimuli with events important for survival (e.g.
, food, mates, threats). There are several behavioral mechanisms through which an insect learns salient associations and relates them to these events. It is important to understand this behavioral plasticity for programs aimed toward assisting insects that are beneficial for agriculture. This understanding can also be used for discovering solutions to biomedical and agricultural problems created by insects that act as disease vectors and pests. The Proboscis Extension Response (PER) conditioning protocol was developed for honey bees (Apis mellifera
) over 50 years ago to study how they perceive and learn about floral odors, which signal the nectar and pollen resources a colony needs for survival. The PER procedure provides a robust and easy-to-employ framework for studying several different ecologically relevant mechanisms of behavioral plasticity. It is easily adaptable for use with several other insect species and other behavioral reflexes. These protocols can be readily employed in conjunction with various means for monitoring neural activity in the CNS via electrophysiology or bioimaging, or for manipulating targeted neuromodulatory pathways. It is a robust assay for rapidly detecting sub-lethal effects on behavior caused by environmental stressors, toxins or pesticides.
We show how the PER protocol is straightforward to implement using two procedures. One is suitable as a laboratory exercise for students or for quick assays of the effect of an experimental treatment. The other provides more thorough control of variables, which is important for studies of behavioral conditioning. We show how several measures for the behavioral response ranging from binary yes/no to more continuous variable like latency and duration of proboscis extension can be used to test hypotheses. And, we discuss some pitfalls that researchers commonly encounter when they use the procedure for the first time.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, PER, conditioning, honey bee, olfaction, olfactory processing, learning, memory, toxin assay
Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
A General Method for Evaluating Incubation of Sucrose Craving in Rats
Institutions: Western Washington University.
For someone on a food-restricted diet, food craving in response to food-paired cues may serve as a key behavioral transition point between abstinence and relapse to food taking 1
. Food craving conceptualized in this way is akin to drug craving in response to drug-paired cues. A rich literature has been developed around understanding the behavioral and neurobiological determinants of drug craving; we and others have been focusing recently on translating techniques from basic addiction research to better understand addiction-like behaviors related to food 2-4
As done in previous studies of drug craving, we examine sucrose craving behavior by utilizing a rat model of relapse. In this model, rats self-administer either drug or food in sessions over several days. In a session, lever responding delivers the reward along with a tone+light stimulus. Craving behavior is then operationally defined as responding in a subsequent session where the reward is not available. Rats will reliably respond for the tone+light stimulus, likely due to its acquired conditioned reinforcing properties 5
. This behavior is sometimes referred to as sucrose seeking or cue reactivity. In the present discussion we will use the term "sucrose craving" to subsume both of these constructs.
In the past decade, we have focused on how the length of time following reward self-administration influences reward craving. Interestingly, rats increase responding for the reward-paired cue over the course of several weeks of a period of forced-abstinence. This "incubation of craving" is observed in rats that have self-administered either food or drugs of abuse 4,6
. This time-dependent increase in craving we have identified in the animal model may have great potential relevance to human drug and food addiction behaviors.
Here we present a protocol for assessing incubation of sucrose craving in rats. Variants of the procedure will be indicated where craving is assessed as responding for a discrete sucrose-paired cue following extinction of lever pressing within the sucrose self-administration context (Extinction without cues) or as responding for sucrose-paired cues in a general extinction context (Extinction with cues).
Neuroscience, Issue 57, addiction, craving, cue-reactivity, extinction, reinstatement, relapse, sucrose seeking
Using the Threat Probability Task to Assess Anxiety and Fear During Uncertain and Certain Threat
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Fear of certain threat and anxiety about uncertain threat are distinct emotions with unique behavioral, cognitive-attentional, and neuroanatomical components. Both anxiety and fear can be studied in the laboratory by measuring the potentiation of the startle reflex. The startle reflex is a defensive reflex that is potentiated when an organism is threatened and the need for defense is high. The startle reflex is assessed via electromyography (EMG) in the orbicularis oculi muscle elicited by brief, intense, bursts of acoustic white noise (i.e.
, “startle probes”). Startle potentiation is calculated as the increase in startle response magnitude during presentation of sets of visual threat cues that signal delivery of mild electric shock relative to sets of matched cues that signal the absence of shock (no-threat cues). In the Threat Probability Task, fear is measured via startle potentiation to high probability (100% cue-contingent shock; certain) threat cues whereas anxiety is measured via startle potentiation to low probability (20% cue-contingent shock; uncertain) threat cues. Measurement of startle potentiation during the Threat Probability Task provides an objective and easily implemented alternative to assessment of negative affect via self-report or other methods (e.g.
, neuroimaging) that may be inappropriate or impractical for some researchers. Startle potentiation has been studied rigorously in both animals (e.g
., rodents, non-human primates) and humans which facilitates animal-to-human translational research. Startle potentiation during certain and uncertain threat provides an objective measure of negative affective and distinct emotional states (fear, anxiety) to use in research on psychopathology, substance use/abuse and broadly in affective science. As such, it has been used extensively by clinical scientists interested in psychopathology etiology and by affective scientists interested in individual differences in emotion.
Behavior, Issue 91,
Startle; electromyography; shock; addiction; uncertainty; fear; anxiety; humans; psychophysiology; translational
A Procedure to Observe Context-induced Renewal of Pavlovian-conditioned Alcohol-seeking Behavior in Rats
Institutions: Concordia University.
Environmental contexts in which drugs of abuse are consumed can trigger craving, a subjective Pavlovian-conditioned response that can facilitate drug-seeking behavior and prompt relapse in abstinent drug users. We have developed a procedure to study the behavioral and neural processes that mediate the impact of context on alcohol-seeking behavior in rats. Following acclimation to the taste and pharmacological effects of 15% ethanol in the home cage, male Long-Evans rats receive Pavlovian discrimination training (PDT) in conditioning chambers. In each daily (Mon-Fri) PDT session, 16 trials each of two different 10 sec auditory conditioned stimuli occur. During one stimulus, the CS+, 0.2 ml of 15% ethanol is delivered into a fluid port for oral consumption. The second stimulus, the CS-, is not paired with ethanol. Across sessions, entries into the fluid port during the CS+ increase, whereas entries during the CS- stabilize at a lower level, indicating that a predictive association between the CS+ and ethanol is acquired. During PDT each chamber is equipped with a specific configuration of visual, olfactory and tactile contextual stimuli. Following PDT, extinction training is conducted in the same chamber that is now equipped with a different configuration of contextual stimuli. The CS+ and CS- are presented as before, but ethanol is withheld, which causes a gradual decline in port entries during the CS+. At test, rats are placed back into the PDT context and presented with the CS+ and CS- as before, but without ethanol. This manipulation triggers a robust and selective increase in the number of port entries made during the alcohol predictive CS+, with no change in responding during the CS-. This effect, referred to as context-induced renewal, illustrates the powerful capacity of contexts associated with alcohol consumption to stimulate alcohol-seeking behavior in response to Pavlovian alcohol cues.
Behavior, Issue 91, Behavioral neuroscience, alcoholism, relapse, addiction, Pavlovian conditioning, ethanol, reinstatement, discrimination, conditioned approach
How to Detect Amygdala Activity with Magnetoencephalography using Source Imaging
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University, Medical College of Wisconsin .
In trace fear conditioning a conditional stimulus (CS) predicts the occurrence of the unconditional stimulus (UCS), which is presented after a brief stimulus free period (trace interval)1
. Because the CS and UCS do not co-occur temporally, the subject must maintain a representation of that CS during the trace interval. In humans, this type of learning requires awareness of the stimulus contingencies in order to bridge the trace interval2-4
. However when a face is used as a CS, subjects can implicitly learn to fear the face even in the absence of explicit awareness*. This suggests that there may be additional neural mechanisms capable of maintaining certain types of "biologically-relevant" stimuli during a brief trace interval. Given that the amygdala is involved in trace conditioning, and is sensitive to faces, it is possible that this structure can maintain a representation of a face CS during a brief trace interval.
It is challenging to understand how the brain can associate an unperceived face with an aversive outcome, even though the two stimuli are separated in time. Furthermore investigations of this phenomenon are made difficult by two specific challenges. First, it is difficult to manipulate the subject's awareness of the visual stimuli. One common way to manipulate visual awareness is to use backward masking. In backward masking, a target stimulus is briefly presented (< 30 msec) and immediately followed by a presentation of an overlapping masking stimulus5
. The presentation of the mask renders the target invisible6-8
. Second, masking requires very rapid and precise timing making it difficult to investigate neural responses evoked by masked stimuli using many common approaches. Blood-oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) responses resolve at a timescale too slow for this type of methodology, and real time recording techniques like electroencephalography (EEG) and magnetoencephalography (MEG) have difficulties recovering signal from deep sources.
However, there have been recent advances in the methods used to localize the neural sources of the MEG signal9-11
. By collecting high-resolution MRI images of the subject's brain, it is possible to create a source model based on individual neural anatomy. Using this model to "image" the sources of the MEG signal, it is possible to recover signal from deep subcortical structures, like the amygdala and the hippocampus*.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Physiology, Anatomy, Psychology, Amygdala, Magnetoencephalography, Fear, awareness, masking, source imaging, conditional stimulus, unconditional stimulus, hippocampus, brain, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, fMRI, imaging, clinical techniques
Investigating the Neural Mechanisms of Aware and Unaware Fear Memory with fMRI
Institutions: University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Pavlovian fear conditioning is often used in combination with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in humans to investigate the neural substrates of associative learning 1-5
. In these studies, it is important to provide behavioral evidence of conditioning to verify that differences in brain activity are learning-related and correlated with human behavior.
Fear conditioning studies often monitor autonomic responses (e.g. skin conductance response; SCR) as an index of learning and memory 6-8
. In addition, other behavioral measures can provide valuable information about the learning process and/or other cognitive functions that influence conditioning. For example, the impact unconditioned stimulus (UCS) expectancies have on the expression of the conditioned response (CR) and unconditioned response (UCR) has been a topic of interest in several recent studies 9-14
. SCR and UCS expectancy measures have recently been used in conjunction with fMRI to investigate the neural substrates of aware and unaware fear learning and memory processes 15
. Although these cognitive processes can be evaluated to some degree following the conditioning session, post-conditioning assessments cannot measure expectations on a trial-to-trial basis and are susceptible to interference and forgetting, as well as other factors that may distort results 16,17
Monitoring autonomic and behavioral responses simultaneously with fMRI provides a mechanism by which the neural substrates that mediate complex relationships between cognitive processes and behavioral/autonomic responses can be assessed. However, monitoring autonomic and behavioral responses in the MRI environment poses a number of practical problems. Specifically, 1) standard behavioral and physiological monitoring equipment is constructed of ferrous material that cannot be safely used near the MRI scanner, 2) when this equipment is placed outside of the MRI scanning chamber, the cables projecting to the subject can carry RF noise that produces artifacts in brain images, 3) artifacts can be produced within the skin conductance signal by switching gradients during scanning, 4) the fMRI signal produced by the motor demands of behavioral responses may need to be distinguished from activity related to the cognitive processes of interest. Each of these issues can be resolved with modifications to the setup of physiological monitoring equipment and additional data analysis procedures. Here we present a methodology to simultaneously monitor autonomic and behavioral responses during fMRI, and demonstrate the use of these methods to investigate aware and unaware memory processes during fear conditioning.
Neuroscience, Issue 56, fMRI, conditioning, learning, memory, fear, contingency awareness, neuroscience, skin conductance
A Procedure to Study the Effect of Prolonged Food Restriction on Heroin Seeking in Abstinent Rats
Institutions: Concordia University.
In human drug addicts, exposure to drug-associated cues or environments that were previously associated with drug taking can trigger relapse during abstinence. Moreover, various environmental challenges can exacerbate this effect, as well as increase ongoing drug intake.
The procedure we describe here highlights the impact of a common environmental challenge, food restriction, on drug craving that is expressed as an augmentation of drug seeking in abstinent rats.
Rats are implanted with chronic intravenous i.v. catheters, and then trained to press a lever for
i.v. heroin over a period of 10-12 days. Following the heroin self-administration phase the rats are removed from the operant conditioning chambers and housed in the animal care facility for a period of at least 14 days. While one group is maintained under unrestricted access to food (sated group), a second group (FDR group) is exposed to a mild food restriction regimen that results in their body weights maintained at 90% of their nonrestricted body weight. On day 14 of food restriction the rats are transferred back to the drug-training environment, and a drug-seeking test is run under extinction conditions (i.e
. lever presses do not result in heroin delivery).
The procedure presented here results in a highly robust augmentation of heroin seeking on test day in the food restricted rats. In addition, compared to the acute food deprivation manipulations we have used before, the current procedure is a more clinically relevant model for the impact of caloric restriction on drug seeking. Moreover, it might be closer to the human condition as the rats are not required to go through an extinction-training phase before the drug-seeking test, which is an integral component of the popular reinstatement procedure.
Behavior, Issue 81, Animal, Drug-Seeking Behavior, Fasting, Substance-Related Disorders, behavioral neuroscience, self-administration, intravenous, drugs, relapse, food restriction
Human Fear Conditioning Conducted in Full Immersion 3-Dimensional Virtual Reality
Institutions: Duke University, Duke University.
Fear conditioning is a widely used paradigm in non-human animal research to investigate the neural mechanisms underlying fear and anxiety. A major challenge in conducting conditioning studies in humans is the ability to strongly manipulate or simulate the environmental contexts that are associated with conditioned emotional behaviors. In this regard, virtual reality (VR) technology is a promising tool. Yet, adapting this technology to meet experimental constraints requires special accommodations. Here we address the methodological issues involved when conducting fear conditioning in a fully immersive 6-sided VR environment and present fear conditioning data.
In the real world, traumatic events occur in complex environments that are made up of many cues, engaging all of our sensory modalities. For example, cues that form the environmental configuration include not only visual elements, but aural, olfactory, and even tactile. In rodent studies of fear conditioning animals are fully immersed in a context that is rich with novel visual, tactile and olfactory cues. However, standard laboratory tests of fear conditioning in humans are typically conducted in a nondescript room in front of a flat or 2D computer screen and do not replicate the complexity of real world experiences. On the other hand, a major limitation of clinical studies aimed at reducing (extinguishing) fear and preventing relapse in anxiety disorders is that treatment occurs after participants have acquired a fear in an uncontrolled and largely unknown context. Thus the experimenters are left without information about the duration of exposure, the true nature of the stimulus, and associated background cues in the environment1
. In the absence of this information it can be difficult to truly extinguish a fear that is both cue and context-dependent. Virtual reality environments address these issues by providing the complexity of the real world, and at the same time allowing experimenters to constrain fear conditioning and extinction parameters to yield empirical data that can suggest better treatment options and/or analyze mechanistic hypotheses.
In order to test the hypothesis that fear conditioning may be richly encoded and context specific when conducted in a fully immersive environment, we developed distinct virtual reality 3-D contexts in which participants experienced fear conditioning to virtual snakes or spiders. Auditory cues co-occurred with the CS in order to further evoke orienting responses and a feeling of "presence" in subjects 2
. Skin conductance response served as the dependent measure of fear acquisition, memory retention and extinction.
JoVE Neuroscience, Issue 42, fear conditioning, virtual reality, human memory, skin conductance response, context learning
Quantifying Cognitive Decrements Caused by Cranial Radiotherapy
Institutions: University of California Irvine .
With the exception of survival, cognitive impairment stemming from the clinical management of cancer is a major factor dictating therapeutic outcome. For many patients afflicted with CNS and non-CNS malignancies, radiotherapy and chemotherapy offer the best options for disease control. These treatments however come at a cost, and nearly all cancer survivors (~11 million in the US alone as of 2006) incur some risk for developing cognitive dysfunction, with the most severe cases found in patients subjected to cranial radiotherapy (~200,000/yr) for the control of primary and metastatic brain tumors1
. Particularly problematic are pediatric cases, whose long-term survival plagued with marked cognitive decrements results in significant socioeconomic burdens2
. To date, there are still no satisfactory solutions to this significant clinical problem.
We have addressed this serious health concern using transplanted stem cells to combat radiation-induced cognitive decline in athymic rats subjected to cranial irradiation3
. Details of the stereotaxic irradiation and the in vitro culturing and transplantation of human neural stem cells (hNSCs) can be found in our companion paper (Acharya et al., JoVE reference). Following irradiation and transplantation surgery, rats are then assessed for changes in cognition, grafted cell survival and expression of differentiation-specific markers 1 and 4-months after irradiation. To critically evaluate the success or failure of any potential intervention designed to ameliorate radiation-induced cognitive sequelae, a rigorous series of quantitative cognitive tasks must be performed. To accomplish this, we subject our animals to a suite of cognitive testing paradigms including novel place recognition, water maze, elevated plus maze and fear conditioning, in order to quantify hippocampal and non-hippocampal learning and memory. We have demonstrated the utility of these tests for quantifying specific types of cognitive decrements in irradiated animals, and used them to show that animals engrafted with hNSCs exhibit significant improvements in cognitive function3
The cognitive benefits derived from engrafted human stem cells suggest that similar strategies may one day provide much needed clinical recourse to cancer survivors suffering from impaired cognition. Accordingly, we have provided written and visual documentation of the critical steps used in our cognitive testing paradigms to facilitate the translation of our promising results into the clinic.
Medicine, Issue 56, neuroscience, radiotherapy, cognitive dysfunction, hippocampus, novel place recognition, elevated plus maze, fear conditioning, water maze