Postweaning, forebrain-specific perturbation of the oxytocin system impairs fear conditioning

J H Pagani, H-J Lee, W S Young
Genes, Brain, and Behavior 2011, 10 (7): 710-9
Oxytocin (Oxt) and vasopressin (Avp) are important for a wide variety of behaviors and the use of transgenic mice lacking the peptides or their receptors, particularly when their loss is spatially and temporally manipulated, offers an opportunity to closely examine their role in a particular behavior. We used a cued fear conditioning paradigm to examine associative learning in three lines of transgenic mice: mice that constitutively lack vasopressin 1a (Avpr1a(-/-)) or Oxt receptors (Oxtr(-/-)) and mice that have Oxt receptor loss restricted to the forebrain that begins postweaning (Oxtr(FB/FB)). Oxtr(-/-) and Avpr1a(-/-) mice have normal conditioned freezing. Oxtr(FB/FB) mice have a reduction in freezing behavior during acquisition, as well as during context and cue retention. In addition to reduction of Oxtr in the central nucleus of the amygdala, in vitro receptor autoradiography showed that the Oxtr(FB/FB) mice have significantly reduced levels of Avpr1a only in that structure. Our results show that postweaning alteration of the distribution of Oxtr receptors is critically important for fear behavior, an effect mirrored in the neural structures that mediate it. While constitutive knockouts of Oxtr and Avpr1a are useful for identifying the neural underpinnings of some behaviors, compensatory mechanisms within some circuits may obscure other behavioral roles.

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