Oxytocin Impairs Fear Acquisition and Fear Inhibition: Mechanisms of Action in the Basolateral Complex of the Amygdala - Scientia Professor Fred Westbrook

What is this research about?

Anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress originate in one or more traumatic experiences which imbue cues present at the trauma with the ability to trigger flashbacks, fear and avoidance.

Clinical trials have shown that cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is more effective in the long-term treatment of this disorder than other forms of therapy. A component of CBT is cue exposure in which the sufferer, aided by the clinician, confronts trauma-related cues in the absence of any overt danger. The aim of these confrontations is to extinguish the ability of the trauma-related cues to trigger the flashbacks, the fear and the avoidance that undermine the quality of the sufferer;s life. This aim is frequently achieved but relapse also occurs. Hence, there is a need to develop more effective ways of extinguishing the effects of trauma-related cues.

This project uses a rodent model to exmamine whether oxytocin is one such way. Previous work has shown that activation of oxytocin receptors in the amygdala (a region of the brain known to be involved in emotional learning, including fear) impairs the development of learned fear and enhances extinction of such fear. The project uses a range of neuroscience techniques to understand how oxytocin affects the amygdala to impair fear learning and facilitate fear extinction.

Other researchers involved:

Dr. Nathan Holmes
Dr. Justine Fam
Dr. James Crane (Charles Sturt University)
Dr. Andrew Delaney (Charles Sturt University)

Publications relating to this research:
Campbell-Smith, E. J., Holmes, N. M., Lingawi, N. W., Panayi, M. C., & Westbrook, R. F. (2015). Oxytocin signaling in basolateral and central amygdala nuclei differentially regulates the acquisition, expression, and extinction of context-conditioned fear in rats. Learning & Memory, 22, 247-257.

Westbrook, R. F., Holmes, N. M., Crane, J., & Delaney, A. Oxytocin impairs fear acquisition and enhances fear inhibition: mechanisms of action in the basolateral complex of the amygdala. NHMRC Project Grant (2015 – 2017).


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