Aversive experiences activate dedicated neural instructive pathways which trigger memory formation and change behavior. The strength of these aversive memories and the degree to which they alter behavior is proportional to the intensity of the aversive experience. Dysregulation of aversive learning circuits can lead to psychiatric pathology. Here we review recent findings elucidating aversive instructive signaling circuits for fear conditioning. We then examine how chronic pain as well as stress and anxiety disrupt these circuits and the implications this has for understanding and treating psychiatric disease. Together this review synthesizes current work on aversive instructive signaling circuits in health and disease and suggests a novel circuit based framework for understanding pain and anxiety syndromes.
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