Adversities during juvenility increase the risk for stress-related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol use disorder. However, stress can also induce coping mechanisms beneficial for later stressful experiences. We reported previously that mice selectively bred for high alcohol preference (HAP) exposed to stress during adolescence (but not during adulthood) showed enhanced fear-conditioned responses in adulthood, as measured by fear-potentiated startle (FPS). However, HAP mice also showed enhanced responding to safety cues predicting the absence of foot shocks in adulthood. Here, we pursue these findings in HAP mice by investigating in further detail how juvenile stress impacts the acquisition of safety and fear learning. HAP mice were subjected to three days of juvenile stress (postnatal days 25, 27, 28) and discriminative safety/fear conditioning in adulthood. FPS was used to assess safety versus fear cue discrimination, fear learning, and fear inhibition by the safety cue. Both stressed and unstressed HAP mice were able to discriminate between both cues as well as learn the fear cue-shock association. Interestingly, it was only the previously stressed mice that were able to inhibit their fear response when the fear cue was co-presented with the safety cue, thus demonstrating safety learning. We also report an incidental finding of alopecia in the juvenile stress groups, a phenotype seen in stress-related disorders. These results in HAP mice may be relevant to understanding the influence of juvenile trauma for individual risk and resilience toward developing PTSD and how individuals might benefit from safety cues in behavioral psychotherapy.
Keywords: Fear conditioning; Fear-potentiated startle; Juvenile stress; PTSD; Resilience; Safety learning.
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