Four experiments tested whether an odor from a rat predator can unconditionally elicit a fear response in rats. In a large chamber, rats displayed fear-related behaviors to trimethylthiazoline (TMT, a volatile compound isolated from fox feces), including avoidance and immobility, while showing less exploratory behavior. In a smaller chamber, TMT induced a species-typical fear response, freezing, whereas other odors did not. In addition, TMT systematically elicited more freezing as the amount of TMT increased. Moreover, there was no within-sessions or between-sessions habituation of freezing to TMT, nor did TMT promote contextual conditioning. The results indicate that the predator odor, TMT, can induce a fear-related behavioral response in rats that is controllable and quantifiable, suggesting that TMT-induced freezing may be a useful paradigm for a neurobehavioral system analysis of ecologically relevant, unconditioned fear.
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