Anxiety disorders are highly prevalent across the lifespan, although diagnoses peak early in adolescence. As a method for inhibiting fear, safety signals have the potential to augment conventional treatments for anxiety. However, the ability to acquire and use safety signals during adolescence remains unclear. Moreover, the impact of stress on safety learning has received surprisingly little attention given that stress is a major factor preceding anxiety onset. In this study, mice were trained in a discriminative conditioning protocol to facilitate safety learning and were tested for fear inhibition using a conditioned safety signal. Next, independent groups of mice were exposed to chronic unpredictable stress (CUS) conditions between postnatal day 22 and 28, followed by tests for anxiety-like phenotypes or fear inhibition using a safety signal, performed either 24 hours or five weeks following CUS. Pre-adolescent CUS reduced weight in adolescence and this effect endured into adulthood. CUS also increased specific anxiety-like behaviors in adolescence that were unique from the increase in anxiety observed in adulthood. Despite increased anxiety-like behaviors, adolescents were able to learn about and effectively use safety signals to inhibit fear. In contrast, adults that experienced CUS showed a subtle increase in anxiety but had impaired safety signal learning and usage. Together, these findings indicate that pre-adolescent stress has immediate and enduring effects on anxiety-like behaviors but impairs the capacity for conditioned inhibition only following incubation.
Copyright © 2020. Published by Elsevier B.V.