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Papers: 17 Dec 2022 - 23 Dec 2022

2022 Dec 16

Brain Behav Immun

Inflammation shapes neural processing of interoceptive fear predictors during extinction learning in healthy humans.


Pawlik RJ, Petrakova L, Cueillette A, Krawczyk K, Theysohn N, Elsenbruch S, Engler H
Brain Behav Immun. 2022 Dec 16.
PMID: 36535608.


Inflammation could impact on the formation and persistence of interoceptive fear and hypervigilance, with relevance to psychiatric disorders and chronic pain. To systematically analyze effects of inflammation on fear learning and extinction, we performed two complementary randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies combining experimental endotoxemia as a translational model of acute systemic inflammation with a two-day multiple-threat fear conditioning paradigm involving interoceptive and exteroceptive unconditioned stimuli (US). Healthy volunteers (N=95) were randomized to receive intravenous injections of either endotoxin (lipopolysaccharide, LPS; 0.4ng/kg) or placebo prior to fear acquisition (study 1) or extinction training (study2). Treatment effects on behavioral and neural responses to conditioned stimuli (CS) predicting interoceptive or exteroceptive threat were assessed during fear learning and extinction phases, along with US valence ratings. Despite robust inflammatory and emotional responses triggered by LPS, no direct effects of inflammation on US ratings or on the formation or extinction of conditioned fear, as assessed with CS valence ratings, were observed. However, in the group treated with LPS prior to acquisition (i.e., study 1), we found enhanced neural responses to the interoceptive but not the exteroceptive CS in key regions of the central fear circuitry during extinction learning. After extinction, this group further showed enhanced negative valence ratings selectively for the interoceptive US during unexpected US re-exposure when compared to the placebo group. Together, inflammation during fear acquisition may promote the establishment of a more robust neural signature of the interoceptive fear memory trace, which may contribute to altered interoceptive pain perception. The fear extinction circuitry engaged during interoceptive fear memory processing may be particularly vulnerable to inflammation, with transdiagnostic implications for gut-brain mechanisms underlying disturbed interoception in psychiatric conditions and chronic visceral pain.