Unravelling cortico-hypothalamic pathways regulating unconditioned fear-induced antinociception and defensive behaviours

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Abstract

The medial prefrontal cortex can influence unconditioned fear-induced defensive mechanisms organised by diencephalic neurons that are under tonic GABAergic inhibition. The posterior hypothalamus (PH) is involved with anxiety- and panic attack-like responses. To understand this cortical mediation, our study characterised anterior cingulate cortex (ACC)-PH pathways and investigated the effect of ACC local inactivation with lidocaine. We also investigated the involvement of PH ionotropic glutamate receptors in the defensive behaviours and fear-induced antinociception by microinjecting NBQX (an AMPA/kainate receptor antagonist) and LY235959 (a NMDA receptor antagonist) into the PH. ACC pretreatment with lidocaine decreased the proaversive effect and antinociception evoked by GABAA receptor blockade in the PH, which suggests that there may be descending excitatory pathways from this cortical region to the PH. Microinjections of both NBQX and LY235959 into the PH also attenuated defensive and antinociceptive responses. This suggests that the blockade of AMPA/kainate and NMDA receptors reduces the activity of glutamatergic efferent pathways. Both inputs from the ACC to the PH and glutamatergic hypothalamic short links disinhibited by intra-hypothalamic GABAA receptors blockade are potentially implicated. Microinjection of a bidirectional neurotracer in the PH showed a Cg1-PH pathway and PH neuronal reciprocal connections with the periaqueductal grey matter. Microinjections of an antegrade neurotracer into the Cg1 showed axonal fibres and glutamatergic vesicle-immunoreactive terminal boutons surrounding both mediorostral-lateroposterior thalamic nucleus and PH neuronal perikarya. These data suggest a critical role played by ACC-PH glutamatergic pathways and AMPA/kainate and NMDA receptors in the panic attack-like reactions and antinociception organised by PH neurons.

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