Active avoidance (AA) is an important paradigm for studying mechanisms of aversive instrumental learning, pathological anxiety, and active coping. Unfortunately, AA neurocircuits are poorly understood, partly because behavior is highly variable and reflects a competition between Pavlovian reactions and instrumental actions. Here we exploited the behavioral differences between good and poor avoiders to elucidate the AA neurocircuit. Rats received Sidman AA training and expression of the activity-dependent immediate-early gene c-fos was measured after a shock-free AA test. Six brain regions with known or putative roles in AA were evaluated: amygdala, periaqueductal gray, nucleus accumbens, dorsal striatum, prefrontal cortex (PFC), and hippocampus. Good avoiders showed little Pavlovian freezing and high AA rates at test, the opposite of poor avoiders. Although c-Fos activation was observed throughout the brain, differential activation was found only in subregions of amygdala and PFC. Interestingly, c-Fos correlated with avoidance and freezing in only five of 20 distinct areas evaluated: lateral amygdala, central amygdala, medial amygdala, basal amygdala, and infralimbic PFC. Thus, activity in specific amygdala-PFC circuits likely mediates the competition between instrumental actions and Pavlovian reactions after AA training. Individual differences in AA behavior, long considered a nuisance by researchers, may be the key to elucidating the AA neurocircuit and understanding pathological response profiles.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
- Cognitive Neuroscience
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience