Elicitation and reduction of fear: behavioural and neuroendocrine indices and brain induction of the immediate-early gene c-fos

Neuroscience. 1997 Jun;78(4):1087-104. doi: 10.1016/s0306-4522(96)00632-x.


The elicitation and reduction of fear were indexed with fear-potentiated startle and corticosterone release and induction of the immediate-early gene c-fos as a marker of neural activity in male Sprague-Dawley rats. Conditioning consisted of pairing one stimulus with footshock, which was withheld when the conditioned stimulus was preceded by a different modality stimulus, the conditioned inhibitor. On the test day, approximately 60% of the rats were used for c-fos in situ hybridization, and were presented with either the conditioned stimulus alone, the conditioned inhibitor alone, a compound of the two stimuli, or no stimuli, and killed 30 min following the presentation of 10 such stimuli. The remaining rats were tested with the fear-potentiated startle paradigm. Rats displayed reliable fear-potentiated startle and corticosterone release to the conditioned stimulus, and both measures were reduced when the conditioned stimulus was preceded by the conditioned inhibitor. The ventral bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, septohypothalamic nucleus, some tegmental nuclei, and the locus coeruleus had particularly high c-fos induction in rats that received the conditioned inhibitor, providing one of the first functional indication that these nuclei might be important in behavioural or endocrine inhibition. Conditioning specific c-fos induction in the three groups that received a stimulus on the test day was observed in many hypothalamic areas, the medial geniculate body and the central gray, structures previously involved in fear and anxiety. The cingulate, infralimbic and perirhinal cortex, nucleus accumbens, lateral septum, dorsal endopiriform nucleus, and ventral tegmental area had higher c-fos induction in rats presented with the fearful conditioned stimulus, confirming previous studies. The amygdala and hippocampus of conditioned rats did not show higher c-fos induction than in rats repeatedly exposed to the context. Many regions displayed c-fos messenger RNA induction in the control condition, suggesting that processes other than fear and anxiety participate in c-fos induction.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Corticosterone / blood
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Genes, Immediate-Early*
  • Genes, fos*
  • Histocytochemistry
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • Male
  • Neurosecretory Systems / physiology*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reflex, Startle / physiology


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Corticosterone