Conditioning and residual emotionality effects of predator stimuli: some reflections on stress and emotion

D.Caroline Blanchard, Guy Griebel, Robert J. Blanchard
2003 Progress in Neuro-psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry  
The advantages of using predator-related odor stimuli to study emotional responses in laboratory tests depend on whether such stimuli do elicit a relatively complete pattern of emotionality. This has been confirmed for cat fur/skin odor stimuli, which elicit a range of defensive behaviors in rats that may be reduced by anxiolytic drugs, produce residual anxiety-like behavior in the elevated plus maze and support rapid aversive conditioning to the context in which they were encountered. Although
more » ... the synthetic fox fecal odor, trimethylthiazoline (TMT), elicits avoidance similar to that seen in response to cat fur/skin odor, this avoidance does not respond to anxiolytic drugs. In addition, TMT does not produce residual anxiety-like behaviors in the elevated plus maze, nor does it support conditioning. As natural cat feces also elicit avoidance but fail to support conditioning, it is possible that the ability of a predator-related odor to serve as an effective unconditioned stimulus (US) relates to its predictive status with reference to the actual presence of the predator. Avoidance per se may reflect that a stimulus is aversive but not necessarily capable of eliciting an emotional response. This view is consonant with findings in a Mouse Defense Test Battery (MDTB) measuring a wide range of defensive responses to predator exposure. A contextual defense measure that may reflect either conditioned or residual but unconditioned emotional responses was almost never reduced by drug effects unless these also reduced risk assessment or defensive threat/attack measures. However, reductions in contextual defense without changes in flight/ avoidance measures were much more common. These findings suggest that flight/avoidance, although it obviously may occur as one component of a full pattern of defensive and emotional behaviors, is also somewhat separable from the others. When-as appears to be the case with TMT-it is the major or perhaps only consistent defensive behavior elicited, this may reflect a stimulus that is aversive or noxious but with little ability to predict the presence of threat or danger. That such stimuli fail to support rapid aversive conditioning suggests the need for a reanalysis of the characteristics required for an effective aversive US. D
doi:10.1016/j.pnpbp.2003.09.012 pmid:14659473 fatcat:nmknkfmpxzgqzezfm57mi7p7bi