Fear‐Potentiated Startle in Mice

William A. Falls1

1 The University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont
Publication Name:  Current Protocols in Neuroscience
Unit Number:  Unit 8.11B
DOI:  10.1002/0471142301.ns0811bs19
Online Posting Date:  August, 2002
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Pavlovian fear conditioning is frequently used to assess the behavioral, physiological, genetic and molecular correlates of learning and memory. In the typical Pavlovian conditioned fear procedure a neutral stimulus, such as a tone, is paired with a mildly aversive stimulus such as a foot shock. The tone conditioned stimulus (CS) comes to elicit a variety of behaviors that are indicative of learned fear. One of the more prominent of these behaviors is a potentiated acoustic startle response. While fear‐potentiated startle in mice is qualitatively similar to that in rats, the stimulus parameters and procedures for producing optimum fear‐potentiated startle in mice differ considerably from those used in rats. Procedures outlined in this unit include initial assessment of startle, fear conditioning and fear‐potentiated startle testing. Special attention is paid to the parameters that affect the magnitude of fear‐potentiated startle and procedures designed to systematically examine these parameters are included.

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Table of Contents

  • Commentary
  • Literature Cited
  • Figures
  • Tables
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Basic Protocol 1:

  • 8‐ to 24‐week old mice (strains that have been examined include both male and female BALB/cJ, C3H/HeSnJ, C57BL/6J, CBA/J and DBA/2J; all available, e.g., from Jackson Laboratory)
  • Startle apparatus to condition fear and measure startle amplitude: e.g., Med Associates
  • Software‐based sound pressure level (SPL) meter (Med Associates)
  • Constant current shock source: e.g., Med Associates
  • Med Associates shock calibration hardware
  • Software for startle measurement, presentation and sequencing of all stimuli: Med Associates
  • Fine sandpaper
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Literature Cited

Literature Cited
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   Falls, W.A. and Davis, M. 1994. Fear‐potentiated startle using three conditioned stimulus modalities. Anim. Learn. Behav. 22:379‐383.
   Falls, W.A. and Davis, M. 1997. Inhibition of fear‐potentiated startle can be detected after the offset of a feature trained in a serial feature negative discrimination. J. Exp. Psychol.: Anim. Behav. Proc. 23:3‐14.
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