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BACKGROUND: Excessive behavioral inhibition during childhood marks anxious temperament and is a risk factor for the development of anxiety and affective disorders. Studies in nonhuman primates can provide important information related to the expression of this risk factor, since threat-induced freezing in rhesus monkeys is a trait-like characteristic analogous to human behavioral inhibition. The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and amygdala are part of a circuit involved in the processing of emotions and associated physiological responses. Earlier work demonstrated involvement of the primate central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) in mediating anxious temperament. This study assessed the role of the primate OFC in mediating anxious temperament and its involvement in fear responses. METHODS: Twelve adolescent rhesus monkeys were studied (six lesion and six control monkeys). Lesions were targeted at regions of the OFC that are most interconnected with the amygdala. Behavior and physiological parameters were assessed before and after the lesions. RESULTS: The OFC lesions significantly decreased threat-induced freezing and marginally decreased fearful responses to a snake. The lesions also resulted in a leftward shift in frontal brain electrical activity consistent with a reduction in anxiety. The lesions did not significantly decrease hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) activity or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) concentrations of corticotrophin-releasing factor (CRF). CONCLUSIONS: These findings demonstrate a role for the OFC in mediating anxious temperament and fear-related responses in adolescent primates. Because of the similarities between rhesus monkey threat-induced freezing and childhood behavioral inhibition, these findings are relevant to understanding mechanisms underlying anxious temperament in humans.
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