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Autonomic dysregulation and the Window of Tolerance Model of the effects of complex emotional trauma


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This paper reviews the Window of Tolerance model of the long-term effects of the severe emotional trauma associated with childhood abuse, a model which can also be applied to adult trauma of sufficient severity to cause post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic dysthymic disorders and chronic anxiety disorders. Dysfunctional behaviours such as deliberate self-harm and substance abuse are seen as efforts to regulate an autonomic nervous system which is readily triggered into extreme states by reminders of the original traumatic events. While midbrain areas such as the periaqueductal gray mediate instant defence responses to traumatic events and their memory triggers it is proposed that ascending monoaminergic tracts are implicated in longer-term changes in mood and arousal. An imbalance of ascending dopaminergic tracts may drive rapid fluctuations in level of arousal and in the associated mood, drive and motivation. Animal models of depression frequently use traumatic experiences of pain, isolation or social defeat to induce changes in mesolimbic and mesocortical dopamine systems which may alter prefrontal cortical control of midbrain defence responses. A focus on the pharmacology of the Window of Tolerance could provide advances in drug treatments for promoting emotional regulation in those who are suffering from the chronic sequelae of traumatic experiences.
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Autonomic dysregulation and the Window
of Tolerance model of the effects of complex
emotional trauma Journal of Psychopharmacology
0(00) 1–9
!The Author(s) 2010
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0269881109354930
FM Corrigan
, JJ Fisher
and DJ Nutt
This paper reviews the Window of Tolerance model of the long-term effects of the severe emotional trauma associated with childhood abuse, a model
which can also be applied to adult trauma of sufficient severity to cause post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic dysthymic disorders and chronic anxiety
disorders. Dysfunctional behaviours such as deliberate self-harm and substance abuse are seen as efforts to regulate an autonomic nervous system
which is readily triggered into extreme states by reminders of the original traumatic events. While midbrain areas such as the periaqueductal gray
mediate instant defence responses to traumatic events and their memory triggers it is proposed that ascending monoaminergic tracts are implicated in
longer-term changes in mood and arousal. An imbalance of ascending dopaminergic tracts may drive rapid fluctuations in level of arousal and in the
associated mood, drive and motivation. Animal models of depression frequently use traumatic experiences of pain, isolation or social defeat to induce
changes in mesolimbic and mesocortical dopamine systems which may alter prefrontal cortical control of midbrain defence responses. A focus on the
pharmacology of the Window of Tolerance could provide advances in drug treatments for promoting emotional regulation in those who are suffering
from the chronic sequelae of traumatic experiences.
Ascending dopamine systems, autonomic dysregulation, dysfunctional behaviours, trauma, window of tolerance
The psychophysiology of traumatic experience
It has been established that exposure to threat or trauma
stimulates the autonomic nervous system (ANS), resulting
in sympathetic hyperarousal and parasympathetic
(dorsal-vagal-mediated) hypoarousal states accompanying
animal defence survival responses such as fight, flight, sub-
mission and freeze (LeDoux, 2002; Ogden et al., 2006; Porges,
2003; Van der Kolk, 1996a, 1996b). Following cessation of
the threat, many victims continue to suer from autonomic
sensitivity to stimuli directly or indirectly related to the trau-
matic events. Thus, threatening and traumatic experiences
result in a bewildering array of cognitive, emotional and phys-
iological symptoms: emotions of fear, shame and rage; numb-
ing of feelings and body sensations; overactivity of the stress
response system; and painful, negative beliefs about the self
that serve to intensify the distressing feelings and body
responses. With a dysregulated nervous system that cannot
modulate either heightened emotional states or states of
depression and numbing, patients often report diculty in
tolerating emotional and physiological arousal without
becoming overwhelmed, as well as problems in recovering
from experiences of intense activation or depression (Ogden
et al., 2006; Van der Kolk, 1996a). In addition, they report
strong somatic responses in which the body tends to become
frozen, collapsed or driven: action becomes either impossible
or impulsive. Non-threatening situational cues often activate
sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activity and fight–
flight responses, while dangerous situations instead elicit
parasympathetic non-responsiveness or submission–compli-
ance responses.
Physiological arousal and the Window of
One model for understanding and explaining the fluctuations
in clinical features that can occur unpredictably and rapidly in
the disorders that arise from the eects of severe trauma
(Ogden et al., 2006) is the ‘Window of Tolerance’ model of
autonomic arousal (Siegel, 1999). Siegel (1999) proposes that
between the extremes of sympathetic hyperarousal and para-
sympathetic hypoarousal is a ‘window’ or range of optimal
arousal states in which emotions can be experienced as toler-
able and experience can be integrated (Figure 1). Although it
has not yet been validated experimentally, the pleomorphic
complex trauma disorders that are the result of childhood
abuse become more comprehensible within this framework
and there is evidence that dierent emotions are accompanied
by distinct patterns of ANS response with sympathetic
Argyll & Bute Hospital, Lochgilphead, Argyll, UK.
Center for Integrative Healing, Watertown, Massachusetts, USA.
Department of Neuropsychopharmacology and Molecular Imaging,
Imperial College, London, UK.
Corresponding author:
FM Corrigan, Argyll & Bute Hospital, Lochgilphead, Argyll PA31 8LD, UK.
J Psychopharmacol OnlineFirst, published on January 21, 2010 as doi:10.1177/0269881109354930
activation accompanied by varying degrees of parasympa-
thetic deactivation (Rainville et al., 2006). Other studies
have observed that trauma-related symptoms and emotions
may be accompanied by more extreme autonomic eects
(Lanius, 2005; Perry et al., 1995). In a study of individuals
with borderline personality disorder, a diagnosis that has
been correlated with childhood trauma (Herman et al.,
1989; Ogata et al., 1990; Zanarini et al., 1989) subjects
demonstrated sympathetically-driven active defence responses
to social interaction with a stranger, in contrast with controls
who were more able to readily engage the ‘vagal brake’ (the
ventral vagal complex) for rapid attunement with the other
person (Austin et al., 2007). While emotional dysregulation
driving maladaptive eorts to diminish distress has provided
a useful model for treating borderline personality disorder
with dialectical behaviour therapy (Linehan, 1993), and can
be adapted to many situations in which harmful actions occur
in response to distress, the autonomic dysregulation model
allows additional hypotheses about the associated psychophy-
siology of involuntary somatic responses to triggers that
evoke some component of a trauma memory.
Trauma, negative cognitions and affective
states outside the Window of Tolerance
When a traumatic event is overwhelming and inescapable, the
associated high arousal emotional state may not be easily
modulated, leading to inhibition of cortical activity
(LeDoux, 2002; Ogden et al., 2006), a loss of cognitive
witnessing, and perhaps even to states of speechless rage or
blind terror (Van der Kolk, 1996b). Alternatively, the dorsal
vagal branch of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS)
may become activated (Porges, 1995) leading to a state of
total submission characterized by numbing, collapse,
dissociation or even ‘feigned death’ (Porges, 2003), a state
from which the prospect of dying can seem a welcome release.
The PNS-dominant state of near death is accompanied by
flaccidity of the muscles and is therefore distinguishable
from the tonic immobilization state (‘scared sti’ or cata-
tonic) (Moskowitz, 2004), in which high physiological arousal
is combined with an inability to engage in voluntary move-
ment of the body, a peritraumatic orienting and defence
response postulated to be secondary to simultaneous SNS
and PNS co-activation (Ogden et al., 2006). Peritraumatic
tonic immobility has been associated with severe psychologi-
cal sequelae of depression and anxiety years after the child-
hood sexual abuse in which it was experienced, when fear and
helplessness were combined with an inability to escape from
the horrifying situation (Bovin et al., 2008; Heidt et al., 2005).
More recently the occurrence of tonic immobility in male
victims of urban violence has been associated with a poor
response to drug therapy (Fiszman et al., 2008).
This Window of Tolerance model (Ogden et al., 2006;
Siegel, 1999) describes all these animal defensive states
(Figure 1): the hyperarousal connected to sympathetic activa-
tion, the autonomic hypoarousal characteristic of parasym-
pathetically mediated dorsal vagal responses, and the ‘deer in
the headlights’ frozen flight response connected to high SNS
and PNS co-activation. In addition, the Window of Tolerance
as an explanatory conceptualization also prescribes a treat-
ment approach: that of regulating autonomic arousal within a
Window of Tolerance in which aect and cognition can be
tolerated so that patients can both think and feel (Fisher and
Ogden, 2007). When patients with trauma-related disorders,
such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and borderline
personality disorder, develop greater ability to self-regulate
autonomic arousal, symptoms tend to diminish or ameliorate,
and they are able to engage more eectively in
well-established treatments for trauma. In addition, use of a
Sympathetic-dominant Hyperarousal:
Emotionally flooded, reactive, impulsive, hypervigilant, fearful, angry.
Intrusive imagery and affects, racing thoughts
Flashbacks, nightmares, high-risk behaviour
Efforts to reduce this state may include suicide planning, self harm,
compulsive cleaning, abuse of alcohol or opiates
Parasympathetic-dominant Hypoarousal:
Flat affect, numb, “empty” or “dead”
Cognitively dissociated, inability to think
Collapsed, disabled defensive responses
Helpless and hopeless
Efforts to reduce may include suicide planning, self-harm, compulsive
Window of Tolerance
Optimal arousal zone, encompassing both intense emotion
and states of calm or relaxation, in which emotions can be
tolerated and information integrated
Mute, terrified, frozen
defence responses.
High arousal coupled
with physical immobility*
Figure 1. Autonomic arousal in the wake of trauma: sympathetic hyperarousal and parasympathetic hypoarousal states drive emotional and autonomic
dysregulation. Also shown is the frozen fear state in which both extremes may be present. States of optimal arousal and emotional regulation are
relatively rare or difficult to maintain. Some examples are included of how dysfunctional behaviours can be utilised in the service of emotional
regulation: both to reduce the intensity of the high arousal states and the depth of the low arousal states. Adapted from Ogden et al (2006) and Siegel
2Journal of Psychopharmacology 0(00)
model that emphasizes the role of the ANS in perpetuating
post-traumatic symptoms addresses both physiological hyper-
arousal symptoms (high-risk behaviour, suicidal impulses,
self-injury) and hypoarousal symptoms (shame, dysthymia,
depression, loss of energy, self-loathing) (Figure 1).
Emotions, defence responses and the mid-
brain periaqueductal grey
One hypothesis oering an explanatory model for these
eects of traumatic experiences on arousal levels involves
the midbrain periaqueductal grey (PAG), which is a key struc-
ture for mediating the physiological eects of defence
responses. Dorsolateral columns are involved in active, sym-
pathetically driven fight or flight behaviours while ventrolat-
eral areas are engaged in parasympathetically dominant
freeze reactions (Bandler and Shipley, 1994; Watt, 2000).
Recently it has been proposed that the dorsomedial column
has specificity for the modulation of aversive, avoidant states
with corticotrophin-releasing factor (CRF) exerting an exci-
tatory influence on this region (Borelli and Brandao, 2007). It
will be of interest to see whether more precise techniques for
imaging the brainstem reveal an association of the dorsome-
dial column with trauma-related avoidant responses of dis-
gust and shame as activation of the dorsomedial column leads
to conditioned place aversion (Zanoveli et al., 2007). The
Window of Tolerance model displayed in Figure 1 sees
freeze responses as the result of co-activation of sympathetic
and parasympathetic components of the ANS and this, in
PAG terms, would mean co-activation of dorsolateral and
ventrolateral columns. However, dorsomedial PAG stimula-
tion for conditioned place aversion is associated with
increased open field freezing, possibly of the attentive,
information-gathering type (Zanoveli et al., 2007), and there
are two other types of freezing (stimulus bound and
non-stimulus bound) produced by activation of dorsal aspects
of PAG (Brandao et al., 2008). Thus it is possible that there
are several dierent types of freeze response depending on
which dorsal PAG columns are co-activated with the
low-arousal, opioid-mediated ventrolateral area responsible
for conditioned freeze with its bradycardia, hypotension
and energy-conservation functions. The PAG activation of
other brainstem structures mediates the autonomic changes
required by emotions and defence responses and the resulting
changes in the physiological state of the body are fed back
through the thalamus to insular and anterior cingulate corti-
ces (Craig, 2005). Distressing emotions associated with the
sympathetic arousal of trauma, such as fear, anger and dis-
gust, are also dependent on activation of the right anterior
insular cortex. The concomitant opponent deactivation of the
left insular cortex (Craig, 2005) may lead to loss of feelings of
comfort and safety and diculties in articulating the experi-
ence. During treatment with a safe, empathic therapist
encouraging non-judgemental mindfulness, and through
training in skills for soothing self-regulation (e.g. Fay,
2007), the balance of insula activation could move to
Motor aspects of defence responses will require subcortical
circuits through the PAG similar to those described by
McHae et al. (2005). The behaviours associated with fight
or flight have sucient similarity in dierent people to suggest
that there are intrinsic tendencies to activate particular muscle
groups when the situation requires specific actions to ensure
survival. Grillner et al. (2005) describe a toolbox of motor
programs which is kept under tonic inhibition by gamma
aminobutyric acid (GABA)ergic pallidal neurons (including
those of the substantia nigra pars reticulata) until a selection
is made in the striatum. A failure of selection from two dis-
inhibited programs would lead to the state of frozen flight or
frozen fight accompanying the ANS co-activation.
The neurochemistry of PAG activation is complex, invol-
ving, to select a few examples, 5-hydroxytryptamine (5HT)-
activated inputs from the basolateral amygdala (Martinez
et al., 2007), cholinergic stimulation of the central amygdala
(Leite-Panissi et al., 2003), GABA-A modulated 5HT activa-
tion of the ventrolateral orbital prefrontal cortex (Huo et al.,
2008) and intrinsic acetylcholine (Kroes et al., 2007), GABA
(De Menezes et al., 2006; Reimer et al., 2008), cytokines
(Bhatt et al., 2008), opioids (Kishimoto et al., 2001), canna-
binoids (Terzian et al., 2008), CRF (Carvalho-Netto et al.,
2007), glutamate and 5HT (Moraes et al., 2008).
Affect regulation and the Window of Tolerance
During multiple or prolonged exposures to childhood trau-
matic events (including sexual abuse, physical abuse, expo-
sure to domestic violence, and trauma related to medical
treatments or accidents), hyper- and hypoarousal states
occur not only in response to threatening events but also to
their anticipation. After repeated SNS/PNS activation during
formative years, the adult in later life may have diculties
in regulating aect (Ogden et al., 2006; Schore, 2003;
Van der Kolk, 1996a), resulting in prolonged states of fear
and anger (SNS-dominance) or despair and depression
(PNS-dominance). In the aectively flattened hypoaroused
state, the trauma survivor may feel that life is not worth
living, that nothing matters, that death would be a relief.
There is a lack of energy and enthusiasm, and a reported
absence of distress may coexist with the matter-of-fact
suicidal thinking. This presentation may mimic, or coexist
with, a major depressive episode, and prescription of antide-
pressants is the obvious choice for the clinician. If antidepres-
sant use leads to an increase in anxiety and arousal, there can
be a switch to a hyperaroused state (in which the energy for
a suicide attempt is available) or a rapid alteration between
the extremes. If suicidal thinking is initially a way of soothing
the empty nihilism and despair of the hypoaroused state
(Herman, 1992), antidepressant-related autonomic activation
may result in the ideas taking on fresh urgency as a way to
end intense suering. Similarly, a temporary intensification of
the hypoarousal state would increase suicidal thinking, which,
if followed by increased energy, could result in impulsive
acting out. The converse may also occur when suicidal think-
ing is initially a way of soothing intense activation, unbear-
able impulses and overwhelming emotions. Increased focus
and autonomic stability as a result of increased serotonin
reuptake inhibition may result in more ability to plan and
implement actions.
Corrigan et al. 3
Ascending tracts and levels of arousal
Although the acute physiological eects of traumatic events
and post-traumatic triggers can be attributed to the SNS/PNS
accompaniments of defence responses, the sustained eects on
cognition and emotion require an alternative explanation for
the alteration of the ‘torque’ (Watt, 2000) of the thalamocor-
tical mantle. Key areas are the intralaminar nuclei, the
nucleus reticularis thalami, the superior colliculi, the core
monoamine nuclei in the brainstem, and the midbrain retic-
ular formation, with PAG outputs having modulatory influ-
ences on these significant structures (Watt, 2000). Ascending
dopaminergic tracts such as the mesocortical, nigrostriatal
and mesolimbic systems are good candidates for this role.
The innervation from the midbrain ventral tegmental area
(VTA) reaches not only the nucleus accumbens and ventral
pallidum but also areas involved in the memory of emotional
experiences and learning of fear responses, such as the baso-
lateral nucleus of the amygdala (McGaugh, 2004). Also, the
mesodiencephalic areas involved in the generation of emo-
tions and defence responses have bilateral projections to the
thalamus that are separate from the nigrostriatal, mesolimbic
and mesocortical dopamine systems (Sanchez-Gonzalez et al.,
2005) and have more diverse origins. The PAG projections to
the mediodorsal nucleus, the principal thalamic input to the
orbitomedial prefrontal cortex, are likely to be significant for
aectively loaded mood states and behaviours but a circuit
involving the laterodorsal nucleus of the thalamus, the baso-
lateral amygdala and the dorsal PAG has also been proposed
for panic disorder (Zanoveli et al., 2007).
Long-term administration of antidepressant drugs attenu-
ates the footshock stress response of mesocortical dopamine
neurons in the rat (Dazzi et al., 2001). The atypical antipsy-
chotics olanzapine and clozapine have a similar eect (Dazzi
et al., 2004), which may help to explain why drugs such as
quetiapine and olanzapine are often clinically useful for
widening the Window of Tolerance in complex trauma
patients. The persistent state of behavioural depression fol-
lowing a prolonged period of repeated immersion stress which
is accompanied by reduced dopamine transmission in the rat
prefrontal cortex (Mizoguchi et al., 2008) may serve as a
model for the hypoarousal state.
Stimulation of dopamine D2 receptors in the prefrontal
cortex reduces, whereas N-methyl D-aspartate (NMDA)
antagonism in the prefrontal cortex increases, the release of
dopamine in the nucleus accumbens and the spontaneous
motor activity of the rat (Del Arco and Mora, 2008), support-
ing the hypothesis that an imbalance of dopamine transmis-
sion in mesocortical and mesolimbic systems would have
eects on motor activation and arousal.
Dysfunctional behaviours and the Window
of Tolerance
Illicit drugs that activate the mesolimbic dopamine (ML-DA)
system and provide reward through activation of the shell of
the nucleus accumbens include cocaine and amphetamine
(Alcaro et al., 2007). One explanatory hypothesis for the
development of substance abuse, self-destructive behaviour
and other dysfunctional behaviours in patients with a history
of trauma is that these substances and the associated compul-
sive activities seek to regulate low- and high-arousal states.
The use of alcohol and cannabis to reduce high activation
states is more dicult to explain if the only relevant neuro-
biology relates to the rewarding stimulation in the nucleus
accumbens shell. However, alcohol and benzodiazepines
would reduce arousal through a GABAergic inhibition of
the ML-DA system, and GABA interneurons are responsible
for dierent degrees of activation of the PAG columns
(Watt, 2000).
Suicide planning is used by trauma patients to both acti-
vate and deactivate arousal, depending on the baseline state
(Perry and Szalavitz, 2007). This soothing or activating
scenario-construction is likely to require imagery circuitry in
the visual cortex, precuneus and posterior cingulate cortex
but also important may be the dopaminergic projections to
the prefrontal cortex which, according to Alcaro et al. (2007),
facilitate information processing without the aective aspects
of Seeking, potentially an increase in arousal without positive
aect. Given that these mesocortical projections can inhibit
dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens (Alcaro et al.,
2007) so the prefrontal areas will be critical to the direction
of the modulation.
Bathing, washing and cleaning are often used by complex
trauma survivors to avoid the dysphoria associated with
hyper- or hypoarousal states. The association between child-
hood trauma and adult obsessive-compulsive symptoms
has recently been documented from a large study of college
students (Mathews et al., 2008) and an aective orbitofron-
tal–striatal circuit has been implicated in obsessive-
compulsive disorder (Menzies et al., 2008). A wide range of
obsessive-compulsive behaviour functions to either increase
cortical activity (as in counting and checking) or regulate arou-
sal (as in bathing, washing and cleaning rituals).
The valence of the hyperarousal state is also subject to
fluctuations and dysfunctional behaviours may be attempts
to convert a fearful, negatively valenced hyperarousal to a
more positive appetitive state. Reynolds and Berridge (2008)
have demonstrated that the shell of the rat nucleus accumbens
is highly sensitive to environmental influences such as bright
light and loud music, and the behaviours generated by dis-
ruption of glutamate transmission there are readily converted
from appetitive to fearful. There is preliminary evidence from
functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies of
altered processing of rewards in the nucleus accumbens and
prefrontal cortex in PTSD (Sailer et al., 2008).
Rapid oscillation between extremes of arousal state and
frantic eorts to achieve regulation, even by way of dysfunc-
tional behaviours, can lead to a ‘biphasic rollercoaster’ of
experience which is chaotic and disturbing to the suerer
(Figure 2).
Trauma and animal models of depression
Animal models of depression that have highlighted the impor-
tance of dopaminergic tracts have relied on the traumas of
pain, isolation or defeat. Rearing rat pups in social isolation
induces hyperfunction of ML-DA systems and hypofunction
of mesocortical dopamine (Fone and Porkess, 2008). Similar
4Journal of Psychopharmacology 0(00)
observations are made when tail pressure is used as the stres-
sor: dopamine depletion in the medial prefrontal cortex
potentiates the stress-induced increase in extracellular dopa-
mine in the nucleus accumbens shell (King et al., 1997).
Rats that repeatedly demonstrated defensive or submissive
behaviour when placed in the cage of an aggressive resident
rat were found to have increased dopamine levels in the
nucleus accumbens and prefrontal cortex when they were
again exposed to the threat of social defeat (Tidey and
Miczek, 1996), providing support for the hypothesis that
the hypervigilant, hyperaroused state is associated with
increased extracellular dopamine in the nucleus accumbens
and prefrontal cortex. However, rats that were returned to
the safety of their home cage (not in sight of the aggressor)
were found to have higher dopamine concentrations while
being behaviourally predominantly inactive, suggesting that
they were in a state of aroused vigilance rather than in a
post-traumatic hypoarousal condition. The aversion to
social contact of socially defeated mice is normalized by
chronic administration of antidepressant (Berton et al.,
2006), supporting the use of this animal trauma response
model in modelling depression and in the discovery of new
Thus, trauma can lead to increased mesolimbic dopamine
and reduced or increased mesocortical dopamine. Also, the
dopaminergic tracts from PAG through the dorsomedial tha-
lamus to prefrontal cortex which have been demonstrated in
the macaque monkey (Sanchez-Gonzalez et al., 2005) would
warrant further study in the traumatized human.
Prefrontal cortex and the autonomic nervous
The orbitomedial prefrontal cortex has projections, presum-
ably regulatory, to the mesodiencephalic areas necessary for
the generation of core emotions and defence responses
(Ongur and Price, 2000). Animal studies suggest that in
some species parasympathetic responses, with bradycardia
and respiratory inhibition, are elicited from the anterior cin-
gulate cortex while sympathetic responses are elicited from
more ventral regions of subcallosal and orbital prefrontal
cortex (Buchanan and Powell, 1993). Sympathetic responses
can also be elicited by stimulation of midline and mediodorsal
thalamic nuclei and these structures may therefore be able to
counteract parasympathetic changes mediated by the anterior
cingulate and orbital prefrontal cortex (Buchanan and
Powell, 1993). In the rat there are direct projections from
the anterior cingulate and orbitofrontal cortex to the dorsal
motor nucleus of the vagus, the solitary nucleus and the
nucleus ambiguus of the medulla. In the rabbit there are
also projections to the mediodorsal, midline and intralaminar
nuclei of the thalamus. Given that a direct pathway exists
from areas 32 and 25 to the autonomic regulatory nuclei in
the medulla it has been proposed that prefrontal cortex and
thalamic activity is associated not with reflex homeostatic
changes in autonomic activity but with the more complex
changes involved in associative learning. The anterior cingu-
late cortex, the orbitofrontal cortex and the mediodorsal
nucleus of the thalamus all have reciprocal connections with
the basolateral nucleus of the amygdala (Buchanan and
Powell, 1993).
Functional brain imaging in the human confirms the role
of both the anterior cingulate cortex and the ventral prefron-
tal cortex in control of autonomic responses. Stimulation of
the sympathetic system with exercise or arithmetic is accom-
panied by activation in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex
(Critchley et al., 2000), while parasympathetic modulation is
accompanied by activation in the ventromedial prefrontal
cortex (Nagai et al., 2004; Wong et al., 2007). The vagal
brake (Porges, 1995) may have its hardwiring in the human
brain in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex rather than the
anterior cingulate cortex as would be expected from the
animal studies referred to above. It is not yet possible to attri-
bute these prefrontal activations unequivocally to specific
autonomic eects or to identified neurotransmitter systems.
However, Bergmann (2008), echoing and developing the
work of Schore (1994), has proposed that post-traumatic
hyperarousal states are mediated by a dopaminergic circuit
involving a ventral sympathetic area of orbitofrontal cortex
that has reciprocal dopaminergic connections with the ventral
tegmental area and projections to the nucleus accumbens.
This system is often involved in positively valenced states of
appetitive behaviour, motivational reward and active coping,
but could be negatively valenced under conditions of threat
(Reynolds and Berridge, 2008). The post-traumatic hypoar-
ousal state, in contrast, is considered by Bergmann (2008) to
be mediated by a noradrenergic circuit involving lateral
regions of orbitofrontal cortex that have reciprocal connec-
tions with, amongst others, parasympathetic autonomic areas
terror Eating
I’m fat
a failure
to memory
Figure 2. An example of how dysfunctional behaviours can be efforts to
regulate distress by a person striving to be within the Window of
Tolerance. Eating for comfort to soothe the terror of a flashback is ini-
tially helpful but then leads to feelings of shame, self-loathing and
worthlessness. This gives rise to suicidal thinking but also to withdrawal
and social isolation which make intrusive memories more disturbing. The
next flashback is accompanied by rage then by shame at the rage, leading
to alcohol intoxication to promote oblivion. Withdrawal from the alcohol
leads to a high arousal state in which triggers to further flashbacks with
dominant fear or rage will occur, continuing the cycle.
Corrigan et al. 5
of the lateral hypothalamus and arousal-regulating neurons in
brainstem vagal centres. This lateral tegmental limbic fore-
brain–midbrain circuit down-regulates negative aect by acti-
vating the onset of a parasympathetic inhibitory state which
can be positively valenced with soothing and calming or neg-
atively valenced with apathy and shame.
Brain imaging in complex trauma and in
Preliminary findings suggest that patients with complex
trauma and dissociative disorders have smaller hippocampal
volumes than controls and that the degree of reduction in
hippocampal volume is correlated both with the clinical sever-
ity of the disorder and the extent of early trauma (Ehling
et al., 2008). Similar findings were reported in a study of
women with borderline personality disorder and a history
of early life trauma (Driessen et al., 2000). Despite these find-
ings, imaging studies of hippocampal volume in depression
are often conducted with no recording of the trauma history
of the participants and this is acknowledged to be a possible
confounding variable in eorts to link volume changes with
depressive subtype (Greenberg et al., 2008). Brain research by
Lanius et al. (cited in Ogden et al., 2006) demonstrated
reduced thalamic activation in subjects with histories of
trauma relative to controls but this has not yet been studied
in relation to arousal level.
The immediacy of hopelessness and chronic
In some cases, depressive episodes appear to be linked to
years of bullying, neglect or other abuse. Psychodynamic the-
orists considered internalized anger to be capable of transfor-
mation into depressed mood but they provided no account of
how this might be mediated physiologically. If there are
repeated situations in which a fight response is obstructed,
thoughts of hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness
accompanying the parasympathetic down-regulation of the
fight response would be associated with low mood – and a
mental state that is biologically determined for a brief and
immediate response to attack can then become chronic.
During an attack by a predator there is a need for a focus
on immediate response rather than on long-term planning.
The function of hopelessness, the belief that ‘this is never
going to get better’, may be the disconnection of the situa-
tionally redundant fight and flight responses. This outlook
conserves energy, through avoidance, hiding or other appro-
priate behavioural responses, and also facilitates submission
if there is a clear imbalance of power.
The physiological experience of helplessness (loss of
energy and tone, collapse, slowed cognitive processing),
accompanied by the cognition ‘there is nothing I can do:
no action of mine will be helpful’ promotes resignation
and energy conservation. Like hopelessness and worthless-
ness (‘I deserve this because I’m bad’) it reinforces submis-
sion responses and passive compliance or acceptance. Thus,
symptoms of depression and hopelessness reflect the
experience of incomplete and/or obstructed fight responses
automatically followed by parasympathetically mediated
‘total submission’ (Porges, 1995) responses. Energy conser-
vation allows individuals to sustain such states for lengthy
periods of time. Subsequently, the patient’s subjective expe-
rience is one of depression, hopelessness and worthlessness,
which is often exacerbated in the context of anger or
Energy conservation can be seen in the DSM-IV (APA,
1994) criteria for major depressive episode of reduced energy
and fatigue. Low mood is described as feeling sad or empty,
and feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt may be
present. Feelings of hopelessness feature in the DSM-IV cri-
teria for dysthymic disorder, along with other features of a
low arousal state such as low energy and low self-esteem.
Concurrent experience of anxiety and depression then
would not be a question of co-morbidity but of activated
fear simultaneous with the incomplete fight or flight
responses. When these are constantly present, rather than
available briefly for situations of danger, the short-term per-
spective remains and obviates the possibility of optimism.
How can there be enjoyment, interest, energy or pleasure
when the outlook rises from a state of frozen submission?
This result of social defeat stress, as in the rat model of
Berton et al. (2006), is a chronic depressive condition reflect-
ing the survival need for dorsal vagal and parasympathetic
Because trauma-related stimuli continue to evoke sympa-
thetically mediated hyperarousal responses and the ‘vagal
brake’ to inhibit or truncate fight or flight responses,
trauma patients often experience characteristic fluctuations
of state described in the ‘distress dipole’ model. If fight or
flight responses chronically coexist with a hypoarousal state
that down-regulates to truncate active defensive responses,
patients may become trapped in the ‘distress dipole’ and
become unable to access any positive aective state. Some
examples are given in Figure 3.
Summary: psychopharmacology and the
Window of Tolerance
We are arguing that while arousal states outside the window
of tolerance are initially associated with SNS or PNS activa-
tion, the psychological eects that persist beyond the acute
change in heart rate and respiratory rate appear to be
mediated – at least in part – by ascending dopaminergic
tracts from the midbrain to the thalamus and the mesocorti-
cal, nigrostriatal and mesolimbic dopaminergic systems.
Evidence from animal studies supports the view that trauma
induces excessive dopamine release in mesolimbic systems,
but the role of reduced dopaminergic activity in mesocortical
tracts is less clear. It may be an imbalance between mesocor-
tical and mesolimbic dopamine transmission that facilitates
rapid switching between high and low arousal states in those
with a history of severe trauma. The nucleus accumbens is
sensitive to environmental factors (Reynolds and Berridge,
2008) and the experience of the arousal state as positively
or negatively valenced may relate to whether it is in fearful/
defensive or appetitive mode.
6Journal of Psychopharmacology 0(00)
High arousal states that are aversive can be modulated by
suicide planning, starvation, abuse of alcohol and cannabis,
bathing, grooming and compulsive cleaning, and by
self-harm. Low arousal states can be modified by compulsive
activities involving grooming and cleaning, suicide planning,
risk-taking (such as driving too fast), self-harm, and abuse of
alcohol, amphetamine, ecstasy or cocaine. Treatment
approaches need to involve patient education about these
states and their role in symptom perpetuation and exacerba-
tion. In addition to pharmacological approaches, the substi-
tution of more eective and less harmful behaviours to
regulate autonomic states must be emphasized. For both
hyperarousal and hypoarousal, mindfull curiosity is regulat-
ing, as is psychoeducation. In high arousal, soothing strate-
gies may be useful, as well as exercise, yoga and other physical
activities requiring focused attention. Low arousal benefits
from gentle activity, movement, humour and increased corti-
cal activity. In suicidal patients with both low and high arou-
sal patterns, treatment with antidepressants and atypical
antipsychotics needs to be monitored carefully from the per-
spective of autonomic arousal and the ‘Window of Tolerance’
to maximize the psychopharmacological benefits in this pop-
ulation and reduce the possibility of an increase in suicidal
Alcaro A, Huber R, and Panksepp J (2007) Behavioral functions
of the mesolimbic dopaminergic system: an affective
Fear and hypervigilance: ‘I
can’t be trapped. I can’t get
too close or committed. I
have to be ready to run.’ ‘If
I can’t run, I can escape
with drink or drugs or
Anger and self-blame:
‘I shouldn’t have let it
happen. It will not happen
again. I won’t trust. I won’t
be controlled.’ FIGHT
Anger and hypervigilance: ‘It will
happen again, but now I’m
ready. I will push people away –
I’ll test their credibility. And if
necessary, I’ll kill myself, or I’ll
kill them.’
Parasympathetic hypoarousal
‘I can’t take care of myself
– I’m in danger, and I need
help. Please love me and
care for me and protect
me.’ ‘Please don’t leave .
. . ‘
Safety lies in compliance. .
‘I can’t say No. I always
have to give in.’ ‘If I go
numb and compliant, I
won’t be hurt again.’ ‘It
isn’t safe to assert myself
or ask for help – it’s
dangerous to fight.’
Shame and depression increase
compliance and thus safety: ‘I deserved
it, or it wouldn’t have happened.’
‘I’m giving up because I don’t deserve
more.’ ‘I’m too tired to fight.’ ‘There’s no
point – it’s hopeless.’ ‘I’m weak and
Figure 3. Some examples of states in which the ‘rollercoastering’ is so rapid that the high and low arousal states effectively coexist. The negative
cognitions are in matching pairs, each with an opposite arousal state, giving rise to an extremely unpleasant dynamic dysphoric tension.
Corrigan et al. 7
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... Having a wide variation of symptoms and behaviour, severity, onset and course, depression is a very heterogeneous disorder (Lux and Kendler, 2010;Goldberg, 2011;Lieblich et al., 2015;Drysdale et al., 2017;Feczko et al., 2019). While behavioural correlates of depression are reported in DSM-5 2013, clinically-reliable physiological and biochemical markers for an objective diagnosis are unknown despite encouraging research findings (Rottenberg, 2007;Corrigan et al., 2010;Gaebler et al., 2013;Valenza and Scilingo, 2014;Garcia et al., 2016;Drysdale et al., 2017;Gentili et al., 2017;Brown et al., 2018;Caldwell and Steffen, 2018;Hartmann et al., 2019;Catrambone et al., 2021). ...
... Nevertheless, it is posited that dysfunctional sympathetic dynamics may contribute to the increased risk of cardiac complications observed in depression (Nicholson et al., 2006;Barton et al., 2007;Dong et al., 2012). Indeed, exposure to risk or trauma has been found to stimulate the ANS, resulting in sympathetic and/or parasympathetic hyperalertness, leading to a pathological mood state in which an individual is unable to experience positive emotional states (Corrigan et al., 2010). When uncontrolled ANS (i.e., sympathetic-dominant hyperarousal and/or parasympathetic-dominant hypoarousal) cannot control heightened emotional or depressive states, patients often report being unable to cope with emotional and physiological arousal (Ogden, 2006;Corrigan et al., 2010). ...
... Indeed, exposure to risk or trauma has been found to stimulate the ANS, resulting in sympathetic and/or parasympathetic hyperalertness, leading to a pathological mood state in which an individual is unable to experience positive emotional states (Corrigan et al., 2010). When uncontrolled ANS (i.e., sympathetic-dominant hyperarousal and/or parasympathetic-dominant hypoarousal) cannot control heightened emotional or depressive states, patients often report being unable to cope with emotional and physiological arousal (Ogden, 2006;Corrigan et al., 2010). The "window of tollerance" model of autonomic arousal states that there is a "window" of healthy autonomic tolerance when intense emotions and a state of calm or relaxation can be integrated and integrated throughout the body. ...
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If depressive symptoms are not caused by the physiological effects of a substance or other medical or neurological conditions, they are generally classified as mental disorders that target the central nervous system. However, recent evidence suggests that peripheral neural dynamics on cardiovascular control play a causal role in regulating and processing emotions. In this perspective, we explore the dynamics of the Central-Autonomic Network (CAN) and related brain-heart interplay (BHI), highlighting their psychophysiological correlates and clinical symptoms of depression. Thus, we suggest that depression may arise from dysregulated cardiac vagal and sympathovagal dynamics that lead to CAN and BHI dysfunctions. Therefore, treatments for depression should target the nervous system as a whole, with particular emphasis on regulating vagal and BHI dynamics.
... Det utsatte barnet Å bli utsatt for seksuelle overgrep i barndommen kan vaere svaert skadelig, og er assosiert med psykiske plager som angst, depresjon, personlighetsproblematikk, dissosiasjon og posttraumatisk stresslidelse (Cohen et al., 2017;Trickett et al., 2011), i tillegg til mer komplekse emosjonelle vansker som skam og skyld (Cohen et al., 2017). Barn utsatt for traumer, spesielt gjentakende traumebelastninger, har ofte et sensitivisert nervesystem og kan vaere sårbare for under-og overaktivering (Corrigan et al., 2011). ...
... Stimuli som minner om maktesløsheten, eller mangelen på kontroll, kan igjen oppstå i møtet og vaere vanskelig å kontrollere for fagpersonene. Man kan forstå dette i lys av at barn utsatt for seksuelle overgrep kan ha et sensitivt nervesystem, og at visse stimuli kan trigge barnet og føre til at de havner utenfor toleransevinduet (Corrigan et al., 2011). Møtet som egentlig skulle vaere til nytte og hjelp for barnet, blir heller opplevd som noe skremmende, ettersom barna blir aktivert og skremt. ...
Background: Restorative process has been used as a treatment intervention in cases where children sexually abuse other children. However, empirical knowledge of the method is scarce. Aim: This study aims to explore therapists` reflections on how restorative process affects children who participate. Method: We conducted semi-structured interviews with 12 therapists working with sexually abused children and child abusers. Six of the participants had experience in using restorative process. Data were analyzed using thematic analysis. Results: The analysis resulted in three themes: (1) becoming stronger, (2) making matters worse, and (3) restorative conditions. Conclusion: The majority of the therapists point out that restorative process can be helpful if it is well prepared, both children want to participate, and the abuser takes responsibility. Without these factors, restorative process can be harmful, especially for the victim. Keywords: harmful sexual behaviour, child sexual abuse, restorative process, qualitative method, therapist experience
... The primary difference is that MDMA temporarily reopens an oxytocin-mediated neuroplastic period of increased trust [44] and social connectedness [45]. MDMA also widens a "window of tolerance" [46] to distressing emotions such as fear [47] while also reducing the association of fear to a particular memory [48]. Altogether, the quintessential subjective effects of MDMA that are implicated in its therapeutic effects include increased trust, empathy, compassion, self-compassion, and connection to others and self, while cognition, control, and perception remain intact [40 • ] meet modern standards to be used to ascertain safety and efficacy. ...
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Purpose of Review This review discusses the current and projected landscape of psychedelic-assisted therapy (PAT), with a focus on clinical, legal, and implementation considerations in Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare systems. Recent Findings 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)- and psilocybin-assisted therapy have shown promising outcomes in efficacy, safety, tolerability, and durability for PTSD and depression, respectively. MDMA-assisted therapy is already approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on an Expanded Access (“compassionate use”) basis for PTSD, with full approval projected for 2024. Psilocybin-assisted therapy is projected to be FDA-approved for depression soon thereafter. Other psychedelics are in earlier stages of development. The VA is currently conducting PAT clinical trials. Summary Although there are clear legal pathways for the VA and DoD to conduct PAT trials, a number of implementation barriers exist, such as the very high number of clinical hours necessary to treat each patient, resource requirements to support treatment infrastructure, military-specific considerations, and the high level of evidence necessary for PAT to be recommended in clinical practice guidelines. Ongoing considerations are whether and how PAT will be made available to VA and DoD beneficiaries, feasibility and cost-effectiveness, and ethical safeguards that must be implemented to prioritize access to PAT given the likelihood of extremely limited initial availability. However, with imminent FDA approval of PATs and considerable national interest in these treatments, DoD and VA policymakers must be prepared with clearly delineated policies and plans for how these healthcare systems will approach PAT.
... The comorbidity of opioid use disorder, trauma, depression, and pain is well established [1,3,44]. Severe psychological trauma and/ or pain may lead to opioid use as a coping mechanism, and cause feelings of failure from internalized stigma [45,46]. ...
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Housing insecurity is associated with co-occurring depression and pain interfering with daily activities. Network analysis of depressive symptoms along with associated risk or protective exposures may identify potential targets for intervention in patients with co-occurring bodily pain. In a community-based sample of adults (n = 408) living in precarious housing or homelessness in Vancouver, Canada, depressive symptoms were measured by the Beck Depression Inventory; bodily pain and impact were assessed with the 36-item Short Form Health Survey. Network and bootstrap permutation analyses were used to compare depressive symptoms endorsed by Low versus Moderate-to-Severe (Mod + Pain) groups. Multilayer networks estimated the effects of risk and protective factors. The overall sample was comprised of 78% men, mean age 40.7 years, with 53% opioid use disorder and 14% major depressive disorder. The Mod + Pain group was characterized by multiple types of pain, more persistent pain, more severe depressive symptoms and a higher rate of suicidal ideation. Global network connectivity did not differ between the two pain groups. Suicidal ideation was a network hub only in the Mod + Pain group, with high centrality and a direct association with exposure to lifetime trauma. Antidepressant medications had limited impact on suicidal ideation. Guilt and increased feelings of failure represented symptoms from two other communities of network nodes, and completed the shortest pathway from trauma exposure through suicidal ideation, to the non-prescribed opioid exposure node. Interventions targeting these risk factors and symptoms could affect the progression of depression among precariously housed patients.
... This catatonic state (fright) paradoxically combines a high physiological arousal with the inability to execute voluntary movements of the body. This state is due to the simultaneous activation of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems [13]. ...
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Rationale: Following a mass casualty event, the primary psychological triage of survivors based on clinical symptomatology is difficult for volunteer rescuers who lack the necessary knowledge of mental health issues and are under significant time pressure. To address this concern, descriptive screening tools are needed. In this context, propositions for a triage tool have taken the form of means to describe traumatic exposure or the survivors' comorbidity factors. Objective: Alternatively, we propose a behaviour-based screening tool built on the Defence Cascade Model. This model assumes that survivors' behaviours involve a range of motor and physiological defensive reactions. After developing this new kind of screening tool, we tested its reliability and validity. Method: Forty professionals who usually intervene in early psychological intervention units randomly rated a series of survivors' profiles with either the behavioural tool or a tool based on classical categories of symptoms used as a control condition. The two screening tools were developed by a group of nine experts. Inter-rater reliability (unweighted kappa and Fleiss' Kappa indexes), criterion validity (Spearman's Rho and Kendall's Tau indexes), face validity (subjective evaluation) and construct validity (modal classes of items) were calculated and compared between the two tools. Results: The results show that behavioural screening is significantly more reliable, while showing a significant correlation with symptom-based screening in terms of prioritisation. It also appears to be simpler than symptom screening, with most references to similar clinical concepts.
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The amygdala is an important filter for unconditioned and conditioned aversive information. The amygdala synthesizes the stimuli input from the environment and then signals the degree of threat that they represent to the dorsal periaqueductal gray (dPAG), which would be in charge of selecting, organizing and executing the appropriate defense reaction. In this study, we examined the influence of fluoxetine microinjections (1.75 and 3.5 nmol/0.2 microL) into the lateral (LaA) and basolateral (BLA) amygdaloid nuclei on the freezing and escape responses induced by electrical stimulation of the dPAG. Freezing behavior was also measured after the interruption of the electrical stimulation of the dPAG. On the following day, these rats were also submitted to a contextual fear paradigm to examine whether these microinjections would affect the conditioned freezing to contextual cues previously associated with foot shocks. Fluoxetine injections into both amygdaloid nuclei did not change the freezing and escape thresholds, but disrupted the dPAG-post-stimulation freezing. Moreover, the conditioned freezing was enhanced by fluoxetine. Whereas 5-HT mechanisms in the amygdala facilitate the acquisition of conditioned fear they inhibit the dPAG-post-stimulation freezing. However, the unconditioned fear triggered by activation of the dPAG is produced downstream of the amygdala. These findings have important implications for the understanding of the neurochemical substrates that underlie panic and generalized anxiety disorders.
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Mice experiencing repeated aggression develop a long-lasting aversion to social contact, which can be normalized by chronic, but not acute, administration of antidepressant. Using viral-mediated, mesolimbic dopamine pathway–specific knockdown of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), we showed that BDNF is required for the development of this experience-dependent social aversion. Gene profiling in the nucleus accumbens indicates that local knockdown of BDNF obliterates most of the effects of repeated aggression on gene expression within this circuit, with similar effects being produced by chronic treatment with antidepressant. These results establish an essential role for BDNF in mediating long-term neural and behavioral plasticity in response to aversive social experiences.
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This study evaluated whether tonic immobility mediates the relations between perceived inescapability, peritraumatic fear, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptom severity among sexual assault survivors. Female undergraduates (N = 176) completed questionnaires assessing assault history, perceived inescapability, peritraumatic fear, tonic immobility, and PTSD symptoms. Results indicated that tonic immobility fully mediated relations between perceived inescapability and overall PTSD symptom severity, as well as reexperiencing and avoidance/numbing symptom clusters. Tonic immobility also fully mediated the relation between fear and reexperiencing symptoms, and partially mediated relations between fear and overall PTSD symptom severity, and avoidance/numbing symptoms. Results suggest that tonic immobility could be one path through which trauma survivors develop PTSD symptoms. Further study of tonic immobility may inform our ability to treat trauma victims.
I have argued in other work that emotion, attentional functions, and executive functions are three interpenetrant global state variables, essentially differential slices of the consciousness pie. This paper will outline the columnar architecture and connectivities of the PAG (periaqueductal gray), its role in organizing prototype states of emotion, and the re-entry of PAG with the extended reticular thalamic activating system (“ERTAS“). At the end we will outline some potential implications of these connectivities for possible functional correlates of PAG networks that are just starting to be mapped. Overall, we will look at many lines of evidence that PAG should be conceptualized as a peri-reticular structure that has a foundational role in emotion, in generating the meaningful organization of behavior by the brain through prototype emotional states, and in allowing the various emotional systems to globally influence and tune both the forebrain and brainstem. Finally, we address implications of these concepts for what is currently understood about consciousness, underlining the need for somewhat more humility within consciousness studies about our current level of understanding of consciousness in the brain, combined with a deeper appreciation of the intrinsic connections between emotion and consciousness. One hopes that more concerted empirical interest in structures underneath the thalamus, combined with a deeper appreciation for the fundamental role that organismic and social value must have in bootstrapping awareness in the developing brain, would begin more widely to influence the fundamental lines of neuroscientific research in both emotion studies and consciousness studies.
this review begins with the background evidence that [dorsal anterior cingulate and medial prefrontal cortices] mediate autonomic responses, the pathways that underlie such responses, and methodologies by which their role in learning may be studied / contributions of cingulate and prefrontal cortices, and their related thalamic nuclei, to specific autonomic responses in the rabbit are reported as are their role in learned autonomic responses / specific connections and neurotransmitter mechanisms of these responses are considered in addition to their general biological relevance (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
[discusses] the role of secure attachments in protecting individuals against being traumatized / describes how trauma leads to a variety of problems with the regulation of affective states, such as anger, anxiety, and sexuality / how affect dysregulation makes people vulnerable to engage in a variety of pathological attempts at self-regulation such as self-mutilation, eating disorders, and substance abuse / how extreme arousal is accompanied by (a) dissociation and (b) the loss of capacity to put feelings into words / how failure to establish a sense of safety and security leads to characterological adaptations that include problems with self-efficacy, shame, and self-hatred, as well as problems in working through interpersonal conflicts / concludes with a brief description of deliberations concerning the definition of complex trauma in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV (DSM-IV) and ICD as well as treatment implications (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
The endocannabinoid anandamide is a possible agonist at the Transient Receptor Potential Vanilloid Type 1 (TRPV1) channel, in addition to its agonist activity at cannabinoid type 1 (CB1) receptor. In the midbrain dorsolateral periaqueductal gray (dlPAG) our previous data showed that CB1 activation induces anxiolytic-like effects. However, the role of TRPV1 has remained unclear. Thus, in the present study we tested the hypothesis that this channel would contribute to the modulation of anxiety-like behaviour in the dlPAG. Male Wistar rats received local injections of the TRPV1 antagonist capsazepine (10-60 nmol) and were submitted to the elevated plus-maze (EPM) and to the Vogel test. In addition, animals received local injections of capsaicin (0.01-1 nmol), a TRPV1 agonist, and were tested in the same models. In accordance with our hypothesis, capsazepine produced anxiolytic-like effects both in the EPM and in the Vogel test. Capsaicin mimicked these results, which might be attributed to its ability to quickly desensitize the channel. Altogether, our data suggest that, while CB1 receptors seem to inhibit aversive responses in the dlPAG, TRPV1 could facilitate them. Thus, CB1 and TRPV1 may have opposite functions in modulating anxiety-like behaviour in this region.