Dissecting the Functional Heterogeneity of Serotonergic Systems That Regulate Fear and Panic
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Serotonin (5-HT) is heavily implicated in severe anxiety and trauma-related disor-ders, such as panic and post-traumatic stress disorders. Overall, site-specific pharmacolog-ical manipulations show that while 5-HT enhances anxiety-associated/avoidance behaviors in the amygdala, 5-HT inhibits panic-associated escape behaviors in the perifornical hypo-thalamus region (PeFR). Yet, our understanding of how specific serotonergic networks and co-transmitters regulate these conditions, but also other aspects of innate panic (e.g., car-dioexcitation or thermal response that occur during a flight or escape response) or condi-tioned fear behaviors is still elusive. Therefore, utilizing circuit-based gain- and loss-of-function approaches to selectively manipulate amygdala- and PeFR-projecting sero-tonergic systems, we hypothesize that specific serotonergic networks projecting to the amygdala and PeFR respectively enhance conditioned fear responses and attenuate innate panic-associated behaviors and physiological responses. There are two main chapters in this dissertation. In Chapter III, retrograde tracing revealed that the amygdala-projecting neurons from dorsal Raphe (DR) were almost exclusively serotonergic (92-95%) concen-trated in the dorsal/ventral (DRD/DRV) DR, with few non-serotonergic neurons. While selective lesioning of this network with saporin toxin (SAP) facilitated the extinction of conditioned fear behavior, selective optogenetic activation of amygdala-projecting DRD/DRV cell bodies using intersectional genetics reduced extinction of conditioned fear behavior and enhanced anxiety avoidance. In Chapter IV, retrograde tracing showed that the PeFR was innervated by equally selective serotonergic networks concentrated in the lateral wings DR (lwDR) and median Raphe (MR). Contrasting with the results from the amygdala-innervating 5-HT system, lesioning the PeFR-projecting serotonergic network from lwDR/MR was accompanied by reduced extinction of conditioned fear behavior, in-creased anxiety avoidance, and increased CO2-induced panic (elevated escape responses and enhanced cardioexcitation). Conversely, selective activation of lwDR/MR serotonergic terminals in the PeFR decreased anxiety-associated behaviors; inhibited CO2-induced panic, and induced unconditioned and conditioned place preferences. The circuit-based ap-proach data presented here show that amygdala- and PeFR-projecting 5-HT neurons com-prise distinct circuits underlying opposite roles enhancing anxiety/fear responses in the amygdala and dampening fear/panic responses in the PeFR. The identification of distinct circuits controlling anxiety, fear, and panic responses is a fundamental step towards the development of more effective therapies for psychiatric conditions such as anxiety and trauma-related disorders.