Fear Extinction in the Periaqueductal Gray (PAG)
Fears and phobias, along with fear-related conditions like Post-Traumatic-Stress- Disorder (PTSD), impact the lives of many people. Our lab has done many projects that investigate further understanding of the fear extinction process and how to manipulate it in ways that may one day be applied in clinical treatment for fear-related disorders. Lately, we have focused on the Periaqueductal Gray (PAG) as a brain structure that may play a key role in producing, anxiety, fear and possibly fear extinction. Currently, we are exploring the role that PAG c-Fos (a brain protein) may play in the extinction of an aversive memory. Through the use of brain stimulation and antisense infusions, we are able to manipulate protein expression in a way that allows us to better understand the process of fear extinction and spontaneous recovery.
Years ago, D-cycloserine (DCS) was a drug developed to treat tuberculosis. When patients undergoing DCS treatment reported that previous fears or phobias no longer seemed to bother them, researchers began exploring the use of DCS in fear treatment. Since then, the drug has been widely studied. In our lab, we have investigated both chronic and acute DCS exposures in order to determine which method was most effective in enhancing fear extinction. Additionally, we have explored the timing of exposure in order to determine when during fear extinction drug administration was the most effective.
Our lab is currently investigating the extent of fetal learning capabilities - an area of neuroscience that is not well understood. Our most current study investigated the development of latent inhibition (LI) of a conditioned taste aversion (CTA) in rat fetuses. Results of this study have, thus far, provided evidence of a fetal rats' ability to acquire a Latent Inhibition memory, depending on the age of the fetus. We are now aiming to extend these findings to determine the neurochemistry behind this learned response.