Central circuits mediating patterned autonomic activity during active vs. passive emotional coping

Brain Res Bull. 2000 Sep 1;53(1):95-104. doi: 10.1016/s0361-9230(00)00313-0.


Animals, including humans, react with distinct emotional coping strategies to different sets of environmental demands. These strategies include the capacity to affect appropriate responses to "escapable" or "inescapable" stressors. Active emotional coping strategies--fight or flight--are particularly adaptive if the stress is escapable. On the other hand, passive emotional coping strategies-quiescence, immobility, decreased responsiveness to the environment-are useful when the stress is inescapable. Passive strategies contribute also to facilitating recovery and healing once the stressful event is over. Active vs. passive emotional coping strategies are characterised further by distinct patterns of autonomic change. Active strategies are associated with sympathoexcitation (hypertension, tachycardia), whereas passive strategies are associated with sympathoinhibitory patterns (hypotension, bradycardia). Distinct neural substrates mediating active vs. passive emotional coping have been identified within the longitudinal neuronal columns of the midbrain periaqueductal gray region (PAG). The PAG offers then a potentially useful point of entry for delineating neural circuits mediating the different forms of emotional coping and their associated patterns of autonomic activity. As one example, recent studies of the connections of orbital and medial prefrontal cortical (PFC) fields with specific PAG longitudinal neuronal columns are reviewed. Findings of discrete orbital and medial PFC projections to different PAG columns, and related PFC and PAG columnar connections with specific subregions of the hypothalamus, suggest that distinct but parallel circuits mediate the behavioural strategies and patterns of autonomic activity characteristic of emotional "engagement with" or "disengagement from" the external environment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Autonomic Nervous System / cytology
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Cardiovascular Physiological Phenomena
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Medulla Oblongata / cytology
  • Medulla Oblongata / physiology
  • Neural Pathways / cytology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology*
  • Periaqueductal Gray / cytology
  • Periaqueductal Gray / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / cytology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Spinal Cord / cytology
  • Spinal Cord / physiology
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / cytology
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiology