Prefrontal Cortex Long-Term Potentiation, but Not Long-Term Depression, Is Associated With the Maintenance of Extinction of Learned Fear in Mice

J Neurosci. 2002 Jan 15;22(2):577-83. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.22-02-00577.2002.


Considerable efforts have been made to identify changes of brain synaptic plasticity associated with fear conditioning. However, for both clinical applications and our fundamental understanding of memory processes, it appears also necessary to investigate synaptic plasticity related to extinction. We previously showed that extinction of freezing to a tone conditioned stimulus (CS; previously paired with footshock) in mice results in a sequence of depression and potentiation of synaptic efficacy in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). These data as well as those from lesion studies suggest that the direction of changes in prefrontal synaptic plasticity may modulate extinction of learned fear. To test this, we analyzed the effects of low-frequency stimulation (LFS) and high-frequency stimulation (HFS) of the mediodorsal thalamic nucleus, known to induce prefrontal long-term depression (LTD) and potentiation (LTP), respectively, on extinction. We found that maintenance of the depression phase, using thalamic LFS, was associated with resistance to extinction. Thalamic HFS applied before extinction testing had no effect on the rate of extinction. However, 1 week follow-up tests revealed that the memory of extinction was intact in these mice (with prefrontal LTP) and in control mice displaying prefrontal LTP-like changes, whereas control mice that did not exhibit such changes displayed a return of freezing to the CS. The results suggest that after extinction the lack of depression-LTP-like conversion sequence in the mPFC synaptic efficacy may profoundly alter the process of consolidation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Conditioning, Classical
  • Electric Stimulation / methods
  • Electrodes, Implanted
  • Electroshock
  • Extinction, Psychological / physiology*
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Long-Term Potentiation / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mediodorsal Thalamic Nucleus / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Time Factors