Moreira FA, Gobira PH, Viana TG, Vicente MA, Zangrossi H, Graeff FG
Cell Tissue Res. 2013 Oct;354(1):119-25
Panic disorder (PD) is a subtype of anxiety disorder in which the core phenomenon is the spontaneous occurrence of panic attacks. Although studies with laboratory animals have been instrumental for the understanding of its neurobiology and treatment, few review articles have focused on the validity of the currently used animal models for studying this psychopathology. Therefore, the aim of the present paper is to discuss the strengths and limits of these models in terms of face, construct and predictive validity. Based on the hypothesis that panic attacks are related to defensive responses elicited by proximal threat, most animal models measure the escape responses induced by specific stimuli. Some apply electrical or chemical stimulation to brain regions proposed to modulate fear and panic responses, such as the dorsal periaqueductal grey or the medial hypothalamus. Other models focus on the behavioural consequences caused by the exposure of rodents to ultrasound or natural predators. Finally, the elevated T-maze associates a one-way escape response from an open arm with panic attacks. Despite some limitations, animal models are essential for a better understanding of the neurobiology and pharmacology of PD and for discovering more effective treatments.