PTSD encompasses three clusters of symptoms: re-experiencing the traumatic event, avoidance symptoms and hyper arousal. The most effective treatment for PTSD consists in cognitive behavioral therapy such as exposure therapy. However, excessive and persistent avoidance of trauma related cues (people, conversations, places, situations) contributes to the maintenance of PTSD by preventing patients from reappraising their perception of the threat. Alleviating avoidance symptoms is therefore a prerequisite to improve the outcome of exposure therapy. Recent work in rodents suggests that active avoidance involves deep brain regions such as the amygdala, ventral striatum and midbrain motor centers. In contrast, the dentate gyrus in the hippocampus -a brain region implicated in learning and memory, spatial navigation and emotionality- plays an important role in preventing the persistence of active place avoidance in rodents. This is especially important as neuroimaging studies in patients point to the hippocampus as a critical site of vulnerability in PTSD.
The NEURAVOID project aims at investigating how the hippocampus and its downstream partners prevent persistent place avoidance in mice. We will use optical tools in freely moving male and female subjects to characterize these neural circuits with high spatial and temporal resolution.