Involvement of the lateral habenula in the regulation of generalized anxiety- and panic-related defensive responses in rats

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Recently obtained evidence points to the involvement of the lateral habenular nuclei (LHb) in the mediation of coping defensive responses to threatening/stressful stimuli. Nevertheless, the role of this brain area in the regulation of defensive responses that have been associated with specific subtypes of anxiety disorders recognized in clinical settings is presently unknown. To address this question, we investigated the effects of either electrolytic lesions or chemical stimulation of the LHb on the defensive behaviors generated in rats by the elevated T-maze. This experimental model allows the measurement, in a same rat, of two defensive behaviors, inhibitory avoidance and escape, that have been related in terms of psychopathology to generalized anxiety and panic disorders, respectively. Bilateral electrolytic lesions of the LHb (1 mA, 10 s) impaired inhibitory avoidance acquisition and facilitated escape performance. On the other hand, chemical stimulation of the LHb by bilateral microinjection of kainic acid (30-60 pmol/0.2 μL) had the opposite effect, i.e., facilitated inhibitory avoidance and impaired escape. The present results indicate that the LHb exerts an opposed regulatory control on generalized anxiety- and panic-related defensive responses in rats.

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