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Similar Neural Activity during Fear and Disgust in the Rat Basolateral Amygdala


Much research has focused on how the amygdala processes individual affects, yet little is known about how multiple types of positive and negative affects are encoded relative to one another at the single-cell level. In particular, it is unclear whether different negative affects, such as fear and disgust, are encoded more similarly than negative and positive affects, such as fear and pleasure. Here we test the hypothesis that the basolateral nucleus of the amygdala (BLA), a region known to be important for learned fear and other affects, encodes affective valence by comparing neuronal activity in the BLA during a conditioned fear stimulus (fear CS) with activity during intraoral delivery of an aversive fluid that induces a disgust response and a rewarding fluid that induces a hedonic response. Consistent with the hypothesis, neuronal activity during the fear CS and aversive fluid infusion, but not during the fear CS and rewarding fluid infusion, was more similar than expected by chance. We also found that the greater similarity in activity during the fear- and disgust-eliciting stimuli was specific to a subpopulation of cells and a limited window of time. Our results suggest that a subpopulation of BLA neurons encodes affective valence during learned fear, and furthermore, within this subpopulation, different negative affects are encoded more similarly than negative and positive affects in a time-specific manner.

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