Roman high (RHA/Verh)- and low (RLA/Verh)-avoidance rats are selected and bred for rapid versus nonacquisition of two-way, active avoidance behavior in the shuttle box. RHA/Verh rats generally show a more active coping style than do their RLA/Verh counterparts when exposed to various environmental challenges. The central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) is known to be involved in the regulation of autonomic, neuroendocrine, and behavioral responses to stress. Its involvement in the selection of coping strategies has also been suggested. Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) seems to be one of the key neurohormones in the control of CeA output. Neuroanatomical studies have revealed that the majority of CRH fibers from the CeA have direct connections with autonomic regulatory nuclei in the brain-stem, e.g. lateral parabrachial nucleus (lPB). The effects of CRH (30 ng) on modulating CeA activity were studied by infusion of CRH into the CeA during conditioned stress (inescapable foot-shocks) in RHA/Verh and RLA/Verh male rats. Heart-rate responses after CRH treatment were not changed in either line. However, distinctly different behavioral responses were seen after CRH infusion into the CeA of both rat lines. A decrease in immobility responses was seen in both RHA/Verh and RLA/Verh rats, while an increase in exploration was observed in RHA/Verh rats only in the conditioned stress situation. Rearing levels were increased in the RHA/Verh rats, whereas they were decreased in the RLA/Verh animals. As a result of CRH infusion, the number of FOS immunoreactive cells in the lPB of RLA/Verh rats was decreased, whereas an opposite response was found in RHA/Verh rats. These results indicate that the CRH system of the CeA connected with output brain-stem areas is differentially involved in the cardiovascular and behavioral responses of these rats having different coping styles.
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