The role of the nucleus accumbens in the acquisition and expression of conditioned defeat

Cloe Luckett, Alisa Norvelle, Kim Huhman
Behavioural Brain Research 2012 February 1, 227 (1): 208-14
When Syrian hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus) are defeated by a larger, more aggressive hamster, they subsequently exhibit submissive and defensive behavior, instead of their usual aggressive and social behavior, even toward a smaller, non-aggressive opponent. This change in behavior is termed conditioned defeat, and we have found that the amygdala, bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, and ventral hippocampus, among others, are crucial brain areas for either the acquisition and/or expression of this behavioral response to social stress. In the present study, we tested the hypothesis that the nucleus accumbens is also a necessary component of the circuit mediating the acquisition and expression of conditioned defeat. We found that infusion of the GABA(A) agonist muscimol into the nucleus accumbens prior to defeat training failed to affect acquisition of conditioned defeat, but infusion prior to testing significantly decreased submissive behavior and significantly increased aggressive behavior directed toward the non-aggressive intruder. These data indicate that, unlike the basolateral complex of the amygdala, the nucleus accumbens is not a critical site for the plasticity underlying conditioned defeat acquisition, but it does appear to be an important component of the circuit mediating the expression of the behavioral changes that are produced in response to a previous social defeat. Of note, this is the first component of the putative "conditioned defeat neural circuit" wherein we have found that pharmacological manipulations are effective in restoring the territorial aggressive response in previously defeated hamsters.


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