Corticolimbic catecholamines in stress: a computational model of the appraisal of controllability

Vincenzo G. Fiore, Francesco Mannella, Marco Mirolli, Emanuele Claudio Latagliata, Alessandro Valzania, Simona Cabib, Raymond J. Dolan, Stefano Puglisi-Allegra, Gianluca Baldassarre

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Appraisal of a stressful situation and the possibility to control or avoid it is thought to involve frontal-cortical mechanisms. The precise mechanism underlying this appraisal and its translation into effective stress coping (the regulation of physiological and behavioural responses) are poorly understood. Here, we propose a computational model which involves tuning motivational arousal to the appraised stressing condition. The model provides a causal explanation of the shift from active to passive coping strategies, i.e. from a condition characterised by high motivational arousal, required to deal with a situation appraised as stressful, to a condition characterised by emotional and motivational withdrawal, required when the stressful situation is appraised as uncontrollable/unavoidable. The model is motivated by results acquired via microdialysis recordings in rats and highlights the presence of two competing circuits dominated by different areas of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex: these are shown having opposite effects on several subcortical areas, affecting dopamine outflow in the striatum, and therefore controlling motivation. We start by reviewing published data supporting structure and functioning of the neural model and present the computational model itself with its essential neural mechanisms. Finally, we show the results of a new experiment, involving the condition of repeated inescapable stress, which validate most of the model’s predictions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1339-1353
Number of pages15
JournalBrain Structure and Function
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 May 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Animal model
  • Appraisal
  • Chronic stress
  • Cortical control
  • Dopamine
  • Noradrenaline


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