Changes in cutaneous and body temperature during and after conditioned fear to context in the rat

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Infrared thermography was used to image changes in cutaneous temperature during a conditioned fear response to context. Changes in heart rate, arterial pressure, activity and body (i.p.) temperature were recorded at the same time by radio-telemetry, in addition to freezing immobility. A marked drop in tail and paws temperature (-5.3 and -7.5 degrees C, respectively, down to room temperature), which lasted for the entire duration of the response (30 min), was observed in fear-conditioned rats. In sham-conditioned rats, the drop was on average half the magnitude and duration. In contrast, temperature of the eye, head and back increased (between + 0.8 and + 1.5 degrees C), with no difference between the two groups of rats. There was a similar increase in body temperature although it was slightly higher and delayed in the fear-conditioned animals. Finally, ending of the fear response was associated with a gradual decrease in body temperature and a rebound increase in the temperature of the tail (+ 3.3 degrees C above baseline). This study shows that fear, and to some extent arousal, evokes a strong cutaneous vasoconstriction that is restricted to the tail and paws. This regionally specific reduction in blood flow may be part of a preparatory response to a possible fight and flight to reduce blood loss in the most exposed parts of the rat`s body in case of injury. The data also show that the tail is the main part of the body used for dissipating internal heat accumulated during fear once the animal has returned to a safe environment.
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Vianna, Daniel
Carrive, Pascal
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UNSW Faculty
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