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The predator odor avoidance model of post-traumatic stress disorder in rats

Albrechet-Souza, Lucas; Gilpin, Nicholas W.

doi: 10.1097/FBP.0000000000000460

Individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder avoid trauma-related stimuli and exhibit blunted hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis response at the time of trauma. Our laboratory uses predator odor (i.e. bobcat urine) stress to divide adult Wistar rats into groups that exhibit high (avoiders) or low (nonavoiders) avoidance of a predator odor-paired context, modeling the fact that not all humans exposed to traumatic events develop psychiatric conditions. Male avoiders exhibit lower body weight gain after stress, as well as extinction-resistant avoidance that persists after a second stress exposure. These animals also show attenuated hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis response to predator odor that predicts subsequent avoidance of the odor-paired context. Avoiders exhibit unique brain activation profiles relative to nonavoiders and controls (as measured by Fos immunoreactivity), and higher corticotropin-releasing factor levels in multiple brain regions. Furthermore, avoider rats exhibit escalated and compulsive-like alcohol self-administration after traumatic stress. Here, we review the predator odor avoidance model of post-traumatic stress disorder and its utility for tracking behavior and measuring biological outcomes predicted by avoidance. The major strengths of this model are (i) etiological validity with exposure to a single intense stressor, (ii) established approach distinguishing individual differences in stress reactivity, and (iii) robust behavioral and biological phenotypes during and after trauma.

Department of Physiology, School of Medicine, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

Correspondence to Nicholas W. Gilpin, PhD, 1901 Perdido Street, Room 7205, New Orleans, LA 70112, USA E-mail:

Received July 25, 2018

Accepted November 23, 2018

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