Fast, transient cardiac accelerations and decelerations during fear conditioning in rats
"The current study reports on a number of heart rate responses observed in rats subjected to a discriminatory Pavlovian fear conditioning procedure. Rats learned that a series of six auditory pips was followed by a footshock when presented alone, but not when the pip series was preceded by a visual safety signal. Each auditory pip in the series evoked a fast transient (<1 >s) cardiac deceleration. This was the case on both trials followed by shock and on trials not followed by shock The onset of the safety light evoked a similar fast deceleration. We propose that these transient decelerations are similar to the human Evoked Cardiac Response 1 (ECR1), a brief modest deceleration evoked by simple sensory stimuli that is thought to reflect an early process of stimulus registration. Immediately following these pip-evoked decelerations, modest fast accelerations were observed. These accelerations were larger when the pip series was followed by shock than when it was not followed by shock. We propose a potential linkage between these accelerations and the human acceleratory ECR2 component, which is associated with more elaborate processing following stimulus registration; something likely to take place when the pip series predicts an aversive event. Both the ECR1- and ECR2-like responses were embedded within a slow, gradual heart rate increase across the entire pip series. This tonic increase was significantly larger on trials with footshock and is therefore probably associated with anticipatory fear of the upcoming shock. An additional special type of cardiac response was found to the first pip in the series not preceded by the safety signal; here, a much larger and more sustained deceleration was apparent. This response appears relatable to the prolonged deceleration reported in humans in response to aversive picture content. We discuss the cardiac responses found in rats in the current study in the context of heart rate responses known in the human literature. (C) 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved."