Newswise — ALBANY, N.Y. (June 6, 2019) — Whence comes fear? Though we dread its arrival, this basic emotion promotes defensive behaviors that are essential for the survival of both young and old.

Yet, 40 years of research examining how we learn about fearful experiences and which brain regions serve this form of learning have primarily left age, and also biological sex, out of the equation.

Now, however, new research led by University Assistant Professor Andrew Poulos of Psychology, supported by a $1.89 million award from the National Institute of Mental Health, delves into this aspect of fear-learning where nearly all other studies have not.

“Prior research has largely focused on the adult male mammal and has established an essential fear brain circuit centered on the amygdala, hippocampus and prefrontal cortex,” said Poulos.

“However, given that these brain regions continue to develop and may do so differently in males and females, our understanding of their relative connectivity and activation in juvenile, adolescent and adult male and female animals may widen our understanding of how the brain encodes and re-experiences fearful situations at different stage of development.”

The study, “Developmental Sex Differentiation of Context Fear Neural Circuits,” which commenced last month and runs through 2023, uses male and female rats at different stages of development as its research subjects.

Poulos said that the objectives of his UAlbany laboratory and the work of his collaborators in this grant award— which include current UAlbany Ph.D. students Natalie Odynocki and Lorianna Colon, neuroscientist Arshad Khan, a neuroscientist of the University of Texas at El Paso and neuroscientist  Damian Zuloaga of UAlbany — are to determine the activation, connectivity and necessity of developing brain circuits that underlie fear learning.

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