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The role of Neuropeptide Y in fear conditioning and extinction


While anxiety disorders are the brain disorders with the highest prevalence and constitute a major burden for society, a considerable number of affected people are still treated insufficiently. Thus, in an attempt to identify potential new anxiolytic drug targets, neuropeptides have gained considerable attention in recent years. Compared to classical neurotransmitters they often have a regionally restricted distribution and may bind to several distinct receptor subtypes. Neuropeptide Y (NPY) is a highly conserved neuropeptide that is specifically concentrated in limbic brain areas and signals via at least 5 different G-protein-coupled receptors. It is involved in a variety of physiological processes including the modulation of emotional-affective behaviors. An anxiolytic and stress-reducing property of NPY is supported by many preclinical studies. Whether NPY may also interact with processing of learned fear and fear extinction is comparatively unknown. However, this has considerable relevance since pathological, inappropriate and generalized fear expression and impaired fear extinction are hallmarks of human post-traumatic stress disorder and a major reason for its treatment-resistance. Recent evidence from different laboratories emphasizes a fear-reducing role of NPY, predominantly mediated by exogenous NPY acting on Y1 receptors. Since a reduction of fear expression was also observed in Y1 receptor knockout mice, other Y receptors may be equally important. By acting on Y2 receptors, NPY promotes fear extinction and generates a long-term suppression of fear, two important preconditions that could support cognitive behavioral therapies in human patients. A similar effect has been demonstrated for the closely related pancreatic polypeptide (PP) when acting on Y4 receptors. Preliminary evidence suggests that NPY modulates fear in particular by activation of Y1 and Y2 receptors in the basolateral and central amygdala, respectively. In the basolateral amygdala, NPY signaling activates inhibitory G protein-coupled inwardly-rectifying potassium channels or suppresses hyperpolarization-induced I(h) currents in a Y1 receptor-dependent fashion, favoring a general suppression of neuronal activity. A more complex situation has been described for the central extended amygdala, where NPY reduces the frequency of inhibitory and excitatory postsynaptic currents. In particular the inhibition of long-range central amygdala output neurons may result in a Y2 receptor-dependent suppression of fear. The role of NPY in processes of learned fear and fear extinction is, however, only beginning to emerge, and multiple questions regarding the relevance of endogenous NPY and different receptor subtypes remain elusive. Y2 receptors may be of particular interest for future studies, since they are the most prominent Y receptor subtype in the human brain and thus among the most promising therapeutic drug targets when translating preclinical evidence to potential new therapies for human anxiety disorders.

Type Journal
ISBN 1532-2785 (Electronic) 0143-4179 (Linking)
Authors Tasan, R. O.; Verma, D.; Wood, J.; Lach, G.; Hormer, B.; de Lima, T. C.; Herzog, H.; Sperk, G.;
Published Date 2016-02-01
Published Volume 55
Published Pages 111-26
Status Published in-print
URL link to publisher's version
OpenAccess link to author's accepted manuscript version