Danger Changes the Way the Brain Processes Innocuous Information - Scientia Professor Fred Westbrook

What is this research about?

The project uses sensory preconditioning as a tool to understand how the brain processes basic information, and how motivational states (such as fear) alter how the brain processes this type of information.

In sensory preconditioning, rodents first learn that an innocuous light signals an equally innocuous noise. They then learn that the noise is dangerous. The consequence of the noise becoming dangerous is that rodents are frightened when tested with the light. In a familiar environment, encoding of the light-noise association requires neuronal activity in the cortex but not the amygdala, whereas in a dangerous environment, encoding of the light-noise association requires activity in the amygdala but not in the cortex. Danger thus shifts processing of the light-sound association from the cortex to the amygdala.

Current work examines whether the experience of danger after encoding of the light-sound association shifts consolidation of the association from the cortex to the amygdala and whether other motivational states (e.g., hunger) also shifts processing of the association from the cortex to the amygdala.

Other researchers involved:

Dr. Nathan Holmes
Dr. Vincent Laurent

Publications relating to this research:

Holmes, N. M., Parkes, S. L., Killcross, A. S., & Westbrook, R. F. (2013). The basolateral amygdala is critical for learning about neutral stimuli in the presence of danger, and the perirhinal cortex is critical in the absence of danger. Journal of Neuroscience, 33(32), 13112-25.

Grants:

Holmes. N. M. (2015). Fear changes the way the brain processes innocuous information. ARC Discovery Early Career Research Award (DECRA).

Holmes, N. M., Laurent, V., and Westbrook, R. F. The spread of fear. NH&MRC Gold Star Award, UNSW (2017).

Lab:

To find out more about this research, please contact Scientia Professor Fred Westbrook