Predicting impaired extinction of traumatic memory and elevated startle

Rebecca Nalloor, Kristopher Bunting, Almira Vazdarjanova

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Background: Emotionally traumatic experiences can lead to debilitating anxiety disorders, such as phobias and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Exposure to such experiences, however, is not sufficient to induce pathology, as only up to one quarter of people exposed to such events develop PTSD. These statistics, combined with findings that smaller hippocampal size prior to the trauma is associated with higher risk of developing PTSD, suggest that there are pre-disposing factors for such pathology. Because prospective studies in humans are limited and costly, investigating such pre-dispositions, and thus advancing understanding of the genesis of such pathologies, requires the use of animal models where predispositions are identified before the emotional trauma. Most existing animal models are retrospective: they classify subjects as those with or without a PTSD-like phenotype long after experiencing a traumatic event. Attempts to create prospective animal models have been largely unsuccessful. Methodology/Principal Findings: Here we report that individual predispositions to a PTSD-like phenotype, consisting of impaired rate and magnitude of extinction of an emotionally traumatic event coupled with long-lasting elevation of acoustic startle responses, can be revealed following exposure to a mild stressor, but before experiencing emotional trauma. We compare, in rats, the utility of several classification criteria and report that a combination of criteria based on acoustic startle responses and behavior in an anxiogenic environment is a reliable predictor of a PTSD-like phenotype. Conclusions/Significance: There are individual predispositions to developing impaired extinction and elevated acoustic startle that can be identified after exposure to a mildly stressful event, which by itself does not induce such a behavioral phenotype. The model presented here is a valuable tool for studying the etiology and pathophysiology of anxiety disorders and provides a platform for testing behavioral and pharmacological interventions that can reduce the probability of developing pathologic behaviors associated with such disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere19760
JournalPloS one
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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