The contribution of the amygdala and hippocampus to the acquisition of conditioned fear responses to a cue (a tone paired with footshock) and to context (background stimuli continuously present in the apparatus in which tone-shock pairings occurred) was examined in rats. In unoperated controls, responses to the cue conditioned faster and were more resistant to extinction than were responses to contextual stimuli. Lesions of the amygdala interfered with the conditioning of fear responses to both the cue and the context, whereas lesions of the hippocampus interfered with conditioning to the context but not to the cue. The amygdala is thus involved in the conditioning of fear responses to simple, modality-specific conditioned stimuli as well as to complex, polymodal stimuli, whereas the hippocampus is only involved in fear conditioning situations involving complex, polymodal events. These findings suggest an associative role for the amygdala and a sensory relay role for the hippocampus in fear conditioning.