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"The Underlying Basis of Anxiety Vulnerability: Attentional Bias and Aberrant Motivation"

Jennifer Fragale
Cell Biology, Neuroscience, and Pharmacology
B.S. 2011, Montclair State University, NJ

Thesis Advisor: Kevin Beck, PhD
Associate Professor
Department of Cell Biology and Molecular Medicine

Tuesday, August 30, 2016
2:00 P.M., Cancer Center-G Level Conference Room


Stress is often viewed as a trigger leading to the development of anxiety disorders. However, not all individuals exposed to stress will develop anxiety. This variability raises the question: what puts individuals at risk for developing a specific mental illness? Individuals who develop an anxiety disorder following stress are believed to possess an innate vulnerability that makes them susceptible to develop the disorder. Thus, the present thesis sought to identify characteristics associated with anxiety vulnerability that may contribute to the development of an anxiety disorder. Two candidate mechanisms are impaired cognitive flexibility and aberrant motivation. The Wistar Kyoto rat (WKY) rat, an animal model of anxiety vulnerability, was used to address these questions. Using a combination of novel techniques, the results presented in this thesis suggests that anxiety vulnerability is associated with impaired cognitive flexibility and an excessive motivation to escape aversive events. Furthermore, these abnormalities may result from innate dysfunction within the amygdala-mPFC circuit and the mesolimbic dopaminergic system, respectively. Identifying characteristics associated with anxiety vulnerability may help identify neural substrates and novel treatment targets in anxiety disorders.

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