Functional anatomy of neural circuits regulating fear and extinction.
ABSTRACT: The memory of fear extinction is context dependent: fear that is suppressed in one context readily renews in another. Understanding of the underlying neuronal circuits is, therefore, of considerable clinical relevance for anxiety disorders. Prefrontal cortical and hippocampal inputs to the amygdala have recently been shown to regulate the retrieval of fear memories, but the cellular organization of these projections remains unclear. By using anterograde tracing in a transgenic rat in which neurons express a dendritically-targeted PSD-95:Venus fusion protein under the control of a c-fos promoter, we found that, during the retrieval of extinction memory, the dominant input to active neurons in the lateral amygdala was from the infralimbic cortex, whereas the retrieval of fear memory was associated with greater hippocampal and prelimbic inputs. This pattern of retrieval-related afferent input was absent in the central nucleus of the amygdala. Our data show functional anatomy of neural circuits regulating fear and extinction, providing a framework for therapeutic manipulations of these circuits.
Project description:Theta oscillations are considered crucial mechanisms in neuronal communication across brain areas, required for consolidation and retrieval of fear memories. One form of inhibitory learning allowing adaptive control of fear memory is extinction, a deficit of which leads to maladaptive fear expression potentially leading to anxiety disorders. Behavioral responses after extinction training are thought to reflect a balance of recall from extinction memory and initial fear memory traces. Therefore, we hypothesized that the initial fear memory circuits impact behavioral fear after extinction, and more specifically, that the dynamics of theta synchrony in these pathways signal the individual fear response. Simultaneous multi-channel local field and unit recordings were obtained from the infralimbic prefrontal cortex, the hippocampal CA1 and the lateral amygdala in mice. Data revealed that the pattern of theta coherence and directionality within and across regions correlated with individual behavioral responses. Upon conditioned freezing, units were phase-locked to synchronized theta oscillations in these pathways, characterizing states of fear memory retrieval. When the conditioned stimulus evoked no fear during extinction recall, theta interactions were directional with prefrontal cortical spike firing leading hippocampal and amygdalar theta oscillations. These results indicate that the directional dynamics of theta-entrained activity across these areas guide changes in appraisal of threatening stimuli during fear memory and extinction retrieval. Given that exposure therapy involves procedures and pathways similar to those during extinction of conditioned fear, one therapeutical extension might be useful that imposes artificial theta activity to prefrontal cortical-amygdalo-hippocampal pathways that mimics the directionality signaling successful extinction recall.
Project description:Anxiety, trauma and stress-related disorders are often characterized by a loss of context-appropriate emotional responding. The contextual retrieval of emotional memory involves hippocampal projections to the medial prefrontal cortex and amygdala; however the relative contribution of these projections is unclear. To address this question, we characterized retrieval-induced Fos expression in ventral hippocampal (VH) neurons projecting to the prelimbic cortex (PL) and basal amygdala (BA) after the extinction of conditioned fear in rats. After extinction, freezing behavior (an index of learned fear) to the auditory conditioned stimulus was suppressed in the extinction context, but was "renewed" in another context. Hippocampal neurons projecting to either PL or BA exhibited similar degrees of context-dependent Fos expression; there were more Fos-positive neurons in each area after the renewal, as opposed, to suppression of fear. Importantly, however, VH neurons projecting to both PL and BA were more likely to express Fos during fear renewal than neurons projecting to either PL or BA alone. These data suggest that although projections from the hippocampus to PL and BA are similarly involved in the contextual retrieval of emotional memories, VH neurons with collaterals to both areas may be particularly important for synchronizing prefrontal-amygdala circuits during fear renewal.
Project description:Acquisition and extinction of learned fear responses utilize conserved but flexible neural circuits. Here we show that acquisition of conditioned freezing behavior is associated with dynamic remodeling of relative excitatory drive from the basolateral amygdala (BLA) away from corticotropin releasing factor-expressing (CRF+) centrolateral amygdala neurons, and toward non-CRF+ (CRF-) and somatostatin-expressing (SOM+) neurons, while fear extinction training remodels this circuit back toward favoring CRF+ neurons. Importantly, BLA activity is required for this experience-dependent remodeling, while directed inhibition of the BLA-centrolateral amygdala circuit impairs both fear memory acquisition and extinction memory retrieval. Additionally, ectopic excitation of CRF+ neurons impairs fear memory acquisition and facilities extinction, whereas CRF+ neuron inhibition impairs extinction memory retrieval, supporting the notion that CRF+ neurons serve to inhibit learned freezing behavior. These data suggest that afferent-specific dynamic remodeling of relative excitatory drive to functionally distinct subcortical neuronal output populations represents an important mechanism underlying experience-dependent modification of behavioral selection.
Project description:The infralimbic cortex (IL) is known to facilitate the formation of extinction memory through reciprocal interactions with the amygdala, which produces fear responses such as freezing. Thus, whether presynaptic input from the amygdala and post-synaptic output of IL neurons are functionally dissociated in extinction memory formation remains unclear. Here, we demonstrated that photostimulation of IL inputs from BLA did not change freezing responses to conditioned stimuli (CS) during training, but did facilitate extinction memory, measured as a reduction in freezing responses to the CS 1?day later. On the other hand, photostimulation of somata of IL neurons induced an immediate reduction in freezing to CS, but this did not affect extinction memory tested the next day. These results provide in vivo evidence for IL-dependent facilitation of extinction memory without post-synaptic modulation of freezing circuits.
Project description:Retrieval of fear extinction memory is associated with increased firing of neurons in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). It is unknown, however, how extinction learning-induced changes in mPFC activity are relayed to target structures in the amygdala, resulting in diminished fear responses. Here, we show that fear extinction decreases the efficacy of excitatory synaptic transmission in projections from the mPFC to the basolateral nucleus of the amygdala (BLA), whereas inhibitory responses are not altered. In contrast, synaptic strength at direct mPFC inputs to intercalated neurons remains unchanged after extinction. Moreover, priming stimulation of mPFC projections induced heterosynaptic inhibition in auditory cortical inputs to the BLA. These synaptic mechanisms could contribute to the encoding of extinction memory by diminishing the ability of projections from the mPFC to drive BLA activity while retaining the ability of intercalated neurons to inhibit the output nuclei of the amygdala.
Project description:In contextual fear conditioning, experimental subjects learn to associate a neutral context with an aversive stimulus and display fear responses to a context that predicts danger. Although the hippocampal-amygdala pathway has been implicated in the retrieval of contextual fear memory, the mechanism by which fear memory is encoded in this circuit has not been investigated. Here, we show that activity in the ventral CA1 (vCA1) hippocampal projections to the basal amygdala (BA), paired with aversive stimuli, contributes to encoding conditioned fear memory. Contextual fear conditioning induced selective strengthening of a subset of vCA1-BA synapses, which was prevented under anisomycin-induced retrograde amnesia. Moreover, a subpopulation of BA neurons receives stronger monosynaptic inputs from context-responding vCA1 neurons, whose activity was required for contextual fear learning and synaptic potentiation in the vCA1-BA pathway. Our study suggests that synaptic strengthening of vCA1 inputs conveying contextual information to a subset of BA neurons contributes to encoding adaptive fear memory for the threat-predictive context.
Project description:Episodic memories initially require rapid synaptic plasticity within the hippocampus for their formation and are gradually consolidated in neocortical networks for permanent storage. However, the engrams and circuits that support neocortical memory consolidation have thus far been unknown. We found that neocortical prefrontal memory engram cells, which are critical for remote contextual fear memory, were rapidly generated during initial learning through inputs from both the hippocampal-entorhinal cortex network and the basolateral amygdala. After their generation, the prefrontal engram cells, with support from hippocampal memory engram cells, became functionally mature with time. Whereas hippocampal engram cells gradually became silent with time, engram cells in the basolateral amygdala, which were necessary for fear memory, were maintained. Our data provide new insights into the functional reorganization of engrams and circuits underlying systems consolidation of memory.
Project description:We examined the contribution of endogenous cholinergic signaling to the acquisition and extinction of fear- related memory by optogenetic regulation of cholinergic input to the basal lateral amygdala (BLA). Stimulation of cholinergic terminal fields within the BLA in awake-behaving mice during training in a cued fear-conditioning paradigm slowed the extinction of learned fear as assayed by multi-day retention of extinction learning. Inhibition of cholinergic activity during training reduced the acquisition of learned fear behaviors. Circuit mechanisms underlying the behavioral effects of cholinergic signaling in the BLA were assessed by in vivo and ex vivo electrophysiological recording. Photostimulation of endogenous cholinergic input (1) enhances firing of putative BLA principal neurons through activation of acetylcholine receptors (AChRs), (2) enhances glutamatergic synaptic transmission in the BLA, and (3) induces LTP of cortical-amygdala circuits. These studies support an essential role of cholinergic modulation of BLA circuits in the inscription and retention of fear memories.
Project description:Despite a wealth of clinical and preclinical data implicating the serotonin (5-HT) system in fear-related affective disorders, a precise definition of this neuromodulator's role in fear remains elusive. Using convergent anatomical and functional approaches, we interrogate the contribution to fear of basal amygdala (BA) 5-HT inputs from the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN). We show the DRN?BA 5-HT pathway is engaged during fear memory formation and retrieval, and activity of these projections facilitates fear and impairs extinction. The DRN?BA 5-HT pathway amplifies fear-associated BA neuronal firing and theta power and phase-locking. Although fear recruits 5-HT and VGluT3 co-expressing DRN neurons, the fear-potentiating influence of the DRN?BA 5-HT pathway requires signaling at BA 5-HT1A/2A receptors. Input-output mapping illustrates how the DRN?BA 5-HT pathway is anatomically distinct and connected with other brain regions that mediate fear. These findings reveal how a discrete 5-HT circuit orchestrates a broader neural network to calibrate aversive memory.
Project description:The extinction of conditioned fear memories requires plasticity in the infralimbic medial prefrontal cortex (IL mPFC), but little is known about the molecular mechanisms involved. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a key mediator of synaptic plasticity in multiple brain areas. In rats subjected to auditory fear conditioning, BDNF infused into the IL mPFC reduced conditioned fear for up to 48 hours, even in the absence of extinction training, which suggests that BDNF substituted for extinction. Similar to extinction, BDNF-induced reduction in fear required N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors and did not erase the original fear memory. Rats failing to learn extinction showed reduced BDNF in hippocampal inputs to the IL mPFC, and augmenting BDNF in this pathway prevented extinction failure. Hence, boosting BDNF activity in hippocampal-infralimbic circuits may ameliorate disorders of learned fear.