An issue of increasing theoretical and translational importance is to understand the conditions under which learned fear can be suppressed, or even eliminated. Basic research has pointed to extinction, in which an organism is exposed to a fearful stimulus (such as a context) in the absence of an expected aversive outcome (such as a shock). This extinction process results in the suppression of fear responses, but is generally thought to leave the original fearful memory intact. Here, we investigate the effects of extinction during periods of memory lability on behavioral responses and on expression of the immediate-early gene c-Fos within fear conditioning and extinction circuits. Our results show that long-term extinction is impaired when it occurs during time periods during which the memory should be most vulnerable to disruption (soon after conditioning or retrieval). These behavioral effects are correlated with hyperactivation of medial prefrontal cortex and amygdala subregions associated with fear expression rather than fear extinction. These findings demonstrate that behavioral experiences during periods of heightened fear prevent extinction and prolong the conditioned fear response.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
- Cognitive Neuroscience
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience