Untangling the neurobiology of coping styles in rodents: Towards neural mechanisms underlying individual differences in disease susceptibility

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Considerable individual differences exist in trait-like patterns of behavioral and physiological responses to salient environmental challenges. This individual variation in stress coping styles has an important functional role in terms of health and fitness. Hence, understanding the neural embedding of coping style variation is fundamental for biobehavioral neurosciences in probing individual disease susceptibility. This review outlines individual differences in trait-aggressiveness as an adaptive component of the natural sociobiology of rats and mice, and highlights that these reflect the general style of coping that varies from proactive (aggressive) to reactive (docile). We propose that this qualitative coping style can be disentangled into multiple quantitative behavioral domains, e.g., flexibility/impulse control, emotional reactivity and harm avoidance/reward processing, that each are encoded into selective neural circuitries. Since functioning of all these brain circuitries rely on fine-tuned serotonin signaling, autoinhibitory control mechanisms of serotonergic neuron (re)activity are crucial in orchestrating general coping style. Untangling the precise neuromolecular mechanisms of different coping styles will provide a roadmap for developing better therapeutic strategies of stress-related diseases.

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