Main content area

Active avoidance learning differentially activates ERK phosphorylation in the primary auditory and visual cortices of Roman high- and low-avoidance rats

Sabariego, Marta, Rosas, Michela, Piludu, Maria Antonietta, Acquas, Elio, Giorgi, Osvaldo, Corda, Maria G.
Physiology & behavior 2019 v.201 pp. 31-41
amygdala, animal behavior, anxiety, avoidance conditioning, learning, mitogen-activated protein kinase, neurons, phosphorylation, prefrontal cortex, rats
Understanding the mechanisms underlying conditioned avoidance is a critical step toward the development of novel treatments of anxiety. In this context, the two-way active avoidance (2WAA) task is a validated paradigm to investigate uncontrolled avoidance, a hallmark of anxiety disorders. The outbred Roman high- (RHA) and low-avoidance (RLA) rat lines are selected for respectively rapid vs. poor acquisition of active avoidant behavior, and emotional reactivity appears to be the most prominent behavioral difference between the two lines, with RLA rats being more fearful/anxious than their RHA counterparts. This study was aimed at assessing the relationship between the different performance of RHA and RLA rats in the 2WAA task and the number of phosphorylated ERK positive (pERK+) neurons in the primary auditory and visual cortices, in three sub-nuclei of the amygdala, as well as in the nucleus accumbens, and the prefrontal cortex. The results indicate that: (1) RHA rats, but not their RLA counterparts, learn very rapidly to avoid mild electric foot-shocks by crossing to the opposite compartment of the shuttle-box during the presentation of the conditioned stimulus and (2) the different behavior of the Roman lines during active avoidance training is associated with differential changes in the number of pERK+ neurons in the primary auditory and visual cortices (where the proactive coping of RHA rats is associated with increased ERK phosphorylation), but not in the other brain areas examined. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that the activation of the ERK signaling cascade in the auditory and visual cortices may be involved in the acquisition of aversive learning in RHA rats.