MAR 15, 2017 06:00 AM PDT
Prefrontal control of learned fear and avoidance
Presented at the Neuroscience 2017 Virtual Event
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  • Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of Puerto Rico
      Raised in southern Connecticut, Quirk went to Northwestern University in Evanston Illinois for his undergraduate training. One of the first NU students to major in Neuroscience, he worked in the laboratory of Dr. Aryeh Routtenberg studying dentate granule cells in the hippocampus and memory. He then pursued a PhD in Neural and Behavioral Science at SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn NY, working with Drs. Robert U. Muller (Mentor), John L. Kubie, and James B. Ranck, studying place cells in the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex. This was followed by a Fulbright Fellowship to establish the first Neuroscience research laboratory in Honduras at UNAH - Tegucigalpa, focusing on malnutrition and the developing CNS. Following a post-doctoral fellowship at NYU in the laboratory of Dr. Joseph LeDoux, studying cortico-amygdala circuits in acquisition and extinction of conditioned fear, Quirk then returned to Latin America in 1997 to establish his own research laboratory at Ponce School of Medicine (now Ponce Health Sciences University) in Puerto Rico. In 2007, he moved his lab to the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine in San Juan. Over the past 20 years, Quirk's research program on fear learning has brought competitive research grants, high-profile publications, and first-class training opportunities for undergraduate and doctoral students living in Puerto Rico.


    We are nearing three decades of research on the neural circuits of Pavlovian fear conditioning. The advent of new techniques such as genetic and optogenetic manipulations have greatly advanced our understanding of these circuits and their potential applicability to anxiety disorders such as PTSD and OCD.  Under natural conditions, however, animals (and humans) make decisions to avoid potential threats, which compete with goal-directed behaviors.  Research on active avoidance dates back to the 1960’s, but this research is experiencing a resurgence, building upon advances in Pavlovian fear conditioning.   In rats, the key areas for avoidance appear to be the medial prefrontal cortex, ventral striatum, and amygdala, as evidenced by recording, immunocytochemical, and optogenetic findings.  Despite its decision-based complexity, active avoidance is amenable to the approaches of modern neuroscience.

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