Neural circuits underlying a psychotherapeutic regimen for fear disorders.

Affiliation

Center for Cognition and Sociality, Institute for Basic Science (IBS), Daejeon, South Korea. [Email]

Abstract

A psychotherapeutic regimen that uses alternating bilateral sensory stimulation (ABS) has been used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. However, the neural basis that underlies the long-lasting effect of this treatment-described as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing-has not been identified. Here we describe a neuronal pathway driven by the superior colliculus (SC) that mediates persistent attenuation of fear. We successfully induced a lasting reduction in fear in mice by pairing visual ABS with conditioned stimuli during fear extinction. Among the types of visual stimulation tested, ABS provided the strongest fear-reducing effect and yielded sustained increases in the activities of the SC and mediodorsal thalamus (MD). Optogenetic manipulation revealed that the SC-MD circuit was necessary and sufficient to prevent the return of fear. ABS suppressed the activity of fear-encoding cells and stabilized inhibitory neurotransmission in the basolateral amygdala through a feedforward inhibitory circuit from the MD. Together, these results reveal the neural circuit that underlies an effective strategy for sustainably attenuating traumatic memories.

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