Investigation of a central nucleus of the amygdala/dorsal raphe nucleus serotonergic circuit implicated in fear-potentiated startle

Neuroscience. 2011 Apr 14;179:104-19. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2011.01.042. Epub 2011 Jan 26.


Serotonergic systems are thought to play an important role in control of motor activity and emotional states. We used a fear-potentiated startle paradigm to investigate the effects of a motor-eliciting stimulus in the presence or absence of induction of an acute fear state on serotonergic neurons in the dorsal raphe nucleus (DR) and cells in subdivisions of the central amygdaloid nucleus (CE), a structure that plays an important role in fear responses, using induction of the protein product of the immediate-early gene, c-Fos. In Experiment 1 we investigated the effects of fear conditioning training, by training rats to associate a light cue (conditioned stimulus, CS; 1000 lx, 2 s) with foot shock (0.5 s, 0.5 mA) in a single session. In Experiment 2 rats were given two training sessions identical to Experiment 1 on days 1 and 2, then tested in one of four conditions on day 3: (1) placement in the training context without exposure to either the CS or acoustic startle (AS), (2) exposure to 10 trials of the 2 s CS, (3) exposure to 40 110 dB AS trials, or (4) exposure to 40 110 dB AS trials with 10 of the trials preceded by and co-terminating with the CS. All treatments were conducted during a 20 min session. Fear conditioning training, by itself, increased c-Fos expression in multiple subdivisions of the CE and throughout the DR. In contrast, fear-potentiated startle selectively increased c-Fos expression in the medial subdivision of the CE and in serotonergic neurons in the dorsal part of the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRD). These data are consistent with previous studies demonstrating that fear-related stimuli selectively activate DRD serotonergic neurons. Further studies of this mesolimbocortical serotonergic system could have important implications for understanding mechanisms underlying vulnerability to stress-related psychiatric disorders, including anxiety and affective disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos / metabolism
  • Raphe Nuclei / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reflex, Startle / physiology*
  • Serotonin / metabolism


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos
  • Serotonin