Parallel circuits mediating distinct emotional coping reactions to different types of stress

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2001 Dec;25(7-8):669-78. doi: 10.1016/s0149-7634(01)00049-5.


All animals, including humans, react with distinct emotional coping strategies to different types of stress. Active coping strategies (e.g. confrontation, fight, escape) are evoked if the stressor is controllable or escapable. Passive coping strategies (e.g. quiescence, immobility, decreased responsiveness to the environment) are usually elicited if the stressor is inescapable and help to facilitate recovery and healing. Neural substrates mediating active versus passive emotional coping have been identified within distinct, longitudinal neuronal columns of the midbrain periaqueductal gray (PAG) region. Active coping is evoked by activation of either the dorsolateral or lateral columns of the PAG; whereas passive coping is triggered by activation of the ventrolateral PAG. Recent anatomical studies indicate that each PAG column receives a distinctive set of ascending (spinal and medullary) and descending (prefrontal cortical and hypothalamic) afferents. Consistent with the anatomy, functional studies using immediate early gene expression (c-fos) as a marker of neuronal activation have revealed that the preferential activation of a specific PAG column reflects (i) the type of emotional coping reaction triggered, and (ii) whether a physical or psychological stressor was used.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*