Fear-related disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder manifest in ways that are consistent with an uncontrollable state of fear. Their development involves heredity, previous sensitizing experiences, association of aversive events with previous neutral stimuli, and inability to inhibit or extinguish fear after it is chronic and disabling. I will highlight recent progress in fear learning and memory, neural circuits mediating the fear response in animal models and humans, and differential genetic susceptibility to disorders of fear. I will further explore how these findings are being applied to the understanding, treatment and possible prevention of fear disorders. Promising advances are being translated from basic science to the clinic, including approaches to distinguish risk versus resilience before trauma exposure, methods to interfere with fear development during memory consolidation after a trauma, and techniques to inhibit fear reconsolidation and to enhance extinction of chronic fear. Cutting edge approaches to understand the genetic and epigenetic regulation at a cell-type specific level within amygdala, medial prefrontal, and hippocampal circuitry as it relates to fear extinction will also be discussed. It is hoped that this new knowledge will translate to more successful, neuroscientifically informed and rationally designed approaches to treatment and prevention of disorders of fear regulation.
Kerry J. Ressler, MD, PhD, is the James and Patricia Poitras Professor of Psychiatry, Chief Scientific Officer, McLean Hospital, affiliate of the Harvard Medical School. He began this role in August, 2015, after being at Emory University for 18 years. He is also the President-Elect of the US Society for Biological Psychiatry and past Chair of the Scientific Council for the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in molecular biology from M.I.T., and his M.D./Ph.D. from Harvard Medical School. In 1992 at Harvard, he was the first student of Dr. Linda Buck (Nobel Prize, 2004), helping to identify the molecular organization of the olfactory receptor system. Dr. Ressler is a past Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and a Member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy. His work focuses on translational research bridging molecular neurobiology in animal models with human genetic research on emotion, particularly fear and anxiety disorders and PTSD. He has published over 200 manuscripts ranging from basic molecular mechanisms of fear processing to understanding how emotion is encoded in a region of the brain called the amygdala, in both animal models and human patients.