Behaviorally selective cardiovascular hyperreactivity in spontaneously hypertensive rats: Evidence for hypoemotionality and enhanced appetitive motivation

Joseph E. LeDoux, Akira Sakaguchi, Donald J. Reis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHRs) and Wistar Kyoto controls (VVKYs) were chronically instrumented for computer-assisted recording of arterial pressure (AP) and heart rate (HR) and examined during classically conditioned emotional (fear) reactions or during the performance of a repertoire of natural behaviors, including eating, drinking, grooming, exploring, and resting. The purpose of the study was to determine whether exaggerated cardiovascular reactivity in SHRs during aversive stimulation: 1) can be coupled to stimuli that before conditioning elicited negligible changes in AP and HR; 2) is accompanied by a proportionately enhanced level of emotional arousal; and 3) is specific to aversive emotional arousal or is also present during natural behaviors. The conditioned blood pressure response (in mm Hg) was greater (p < 0.01) in SHRs (peak response, 20 ± 3) than in WKYs (peak response, 7 ± 1). While the conditioned pressure response was accompanied by bradycardia in WKYs (peak response, - 1 3 ± 5 bpm), tachycardia was present in SHRs (peak response, 17 ± 7 bpm). Behavioral tests indicated reduced emotional reactions in SHRs: SHRs showed less (p < 0.05) drink suppression (75 ± 17 sec) than WKYs (111 ± 10 sec) and SHRs showed less (p < 0.01) suppression of exploratory activity (201 ± 40 sec) than WKYs (499 ± 70) in the presence of the conditioned emotional stimulus. The magnitude of blood pressure changes (in mm Hg) above resting baseline was not different in SHRs and WKYs during eating (SHR, 32 ± 3; WKY, 28 ± 2), grooming (SHR, 17 ± 3; WKY, 14 ± 2), or exploring (SHR, 17 ± 2; WKY, 18 ± 2), but was greater (p < 0.01) during drinking in SHRs (48 ± 4) than in WKYs (32 ± 2). The amount of time (sec) spent grooming (SHR, 55 ± 23; WKY, 38 ± 15) and exploring (SHR, 187 ± 33; WKY, 165 ± 42) did not differ between the strains, but SHRs spent more time (p < 0.01) eating (SHR, 1103 ± 88; WKY, 800 ± 114) and drinking (SHR, 119 ± 18; WKY, 32 ± 12). These findings demonstrate that: 1) exaggerated cardiovascular reactivity in SHRs is readily coupled through conditioning to otherwise benign stimuli; 2) conditioned cardiovascular hyperreactivity is accompanied by a reduced not an enhanced level of conditioned emotional arousal; 3) cardiovascular hyperreactivity is not specific to aversive arousal but is nevertheless a behaviorally-specific mode of response; and 4) SHRs and WKYs differ in the performance of natural as well as emotional behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)853-863
Number of pages11
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1982


  • Blood pressure
  • Classical conditioning
  • Conditioned emotional responses
  • Natural behavior
  • Spontaneously hypertensive rats

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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