Expression of cardiovascular and behavioural components of conditioned fear to context in T4 spinally transected rats

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A spinal cord transection at the fourth thoracic level (T4) results in paraplegia. It also removes supraspinal control of sympathetic outflow to most viscera and their blood vessels but spares the heart. We studied the effects of such a transection on the expression of the conditioned fear response to context, which includes freezing, 22 kHz ultrasonic vocalisations, a marked pressor response and a slowly rising tachycardia. Rats implanted with radiotelemetric probes were fear conditioned, tested, then transected at T4 and finally re-tested 4 weeks after transection. Baseline blood pressure in transected animals was the same as in intact animals but baseline heart rate was 127 bpm higher. There were clear signs of fear in the transected animals: although freezing occurred in the upper part of the body only, there was a 3 fold increase in the number of ultrasonic vocalisations, most probably due to paralysis of abdominal muscles that made expirations shorter and therefore more frequent. The pressor response of fear was initially the same as in intact animals but controls revealed that this was due to handling during transfer to the aversive context. The rest of the pressor response was markedly reduced (70%) confirming that it depends in large part on a sympathetically mediated increase in vascular resistance in the lower part of the body. The cardiac response was characterized by an initial bradycardia followed by a marked tachycardia, which is consistent with a baroreceptor-mediated reflex response to the altered pressor changes. Finally, none of these changes was observed when the same experiment was repeated in sham transected animals. Thus, the pressor response of fear is in large part mediated by the thoracic cord below T4 and the baroreflex is not inhibited but maintained during conditioned fear.
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Choi, Eun
Leman, Samuel
Vianna, Daniel
Waite, Phil
Carrive, Pascal
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Journal Article
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UNSW Faculty