Rats exchange information about danger in a reciprocal fashion

December 05, 2019

Rats exchange information about danger in a reciprocal fashion, and this information transfer is at least partially mediated by a brain region called the anterior cingulate cortex, according to a study published December 5 in the open-access journal PLOS Biology by Christian Keysers of the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience and the University of Amsterdam, and colleagues.

The ability to anticipate threats and deploy defensive responses appropriately is key to survival. Rodents have evolved mechanisms to use the response of conspecifics to more selectively deploy defensive behavior in anticipation of danger. Until now, social transmission of freezing - a behavioral manifestation of fear in rodents -- was conceived of as a one-way phenomenon in which an observer perceives the fear of another. In the new study, Keysers and colleagues systematically quantified the transfer of information between rats in the context of danger, and how this information transfer is affected by deactivation of the anterior cingulate cortex -- a brain region that contains emotional mirror neurons in rodents. Unlike more traditional methods that focus on one direction of information flow at a time, the methods the researchers introduced allowed them to capture social influences in both directions in the same paradigm. The paradigm they developed in the lab involves a shock-experienced observer rat interacting through a perforated transparent divider with another rat receiving footshocks.

The results suggest that rats exchange information about danger in both directions; how the observer reacts to the other rat's distress also influences how the rat receiving footshocks responds to the danger. This is true to a similar extent across highly familiar and entirely unfamiliar rats, but is stronger in animals pre-exposed to shocks. The effect of pre-exposure suggests that information transfer about danger is not entirely inborn; instead, part of the information transfer depends on some form of learning, similar to cross-species transfer of danger information via eavesdropping. Moreover, deactivating the anterior cingulate of observers reduces freezing in the observers and in the rats receiving the shocks. Taken together, the findings suggest that coupling of freezing across rats could enhance the efficient detection of danger in a group, similar to cross-species eavesdropping.

"What we observed, was striking," said Christian Keysers. "Without the region that humans use to empathize, the rats were no longer sensitive to the distress of a fellow rat. Our sensitivity to the emotions of others is thus perhaps more similar to that of the rat than many may have thought."

They go on to say, "What our data suggest, is that an observer shares the emotions of others because it enables the observer to prepare for danger. It's not about helping the victim, but about avoiding to become a victim yourself."
-end-
Peer-reviewed; Experimental Study; Animals

In your coverage please use this URL to provide access to the freely available article in PLOS Biology: https://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.3000524

Citation: Han Y, Bruls R, Soyman E, Thomas RM, Pentaraki V, Jelinek N, et al. (2019) Bidirectional cingulate-dependent danger information transfer across rats. PLoS Biol 17(12): e3000524. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3000524

Funding: This work was supported by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (VICI: 453-15-009 to CK and VIDI 452-14-015 to VG) and the European Research Council of the European Commission (ERC-StG-312511 to CK). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

PLOS

Related Fear Articles from Brightsurf:

How does the brain process fear?
CSHL Professor Bo Li's team explores the brain circuits that underlie fear.

The overlap between fear and anxiety brain circuits
Fear and anxiety reflect overlapping brain circuits, according to research recently published in JNeurosci.

Fear of missing out impacts people of all ages
The social anxiety that other people are having fun without you, also known as FoMO, is more associated with loneliness, low self-esteem and low self-compassion than with age, according to a recent study led by Washington State University psychology professor Chris Barry.

How fear transforms into anxiety
University of New Mexico researchers identify for the first time the brain-wide neural correlates of the transition from fear to anxiety.

How associative fear memory is formed in the brain
Using a mouse model, a pair of UC Riverside researchers demonstrated the formation of fear memory involves the strengthening of neural pathways between two brain areas: the hippocampus, which responds to a particular context and encodes it, and the amygdala, which triggers defensive behavior, including fear responses.

What makes fear decrease
In uncanny situations, the mere presence of an unknown person can have a calming effect.

With these neurons, extinguishing fear is its own reward
The same neurons responsible for encoding reward also form new memories to suppress fearful ones, according to new research by scientists at The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT.

Having to defend one's sexuality increases fear of childbirth
In order to help people with fear of childbirth, there must be trust between the patient and the healthcare staff.

Fear of hospitalization keeps men from talking about suicide
Fear of psychiatric hospitalization is one of the primary reasons that older men -- an age and gender group at high risk for suicide -- don't talk about suicide with their physicians.

Brain activity predicts fear of pain
Researchers applied a machine learning technique that could potentially translate patterns of activity in fear-processing brain regions into scores on questionnaires used to assess a patient's fear of pain.

Read More: Fear News and Fear Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.