Neural circuits and mechanisms involved in Pavlovian fear conditioning: a critical review

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2006;30(2):188-202. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2005.06.005. Epub 2005 Aug 24.


Pavlovian or classical fear conditioning is recognized as a model system to investigate the neurobiological mechanisms of learning and memory in the mammalian brain and to understand the root of fear-related disorders in humans. In recent decades, important progress has been made in delineating the essential neural circuitry and cellular-molecular mechanisms of fear conditioning. Converging lines of evidence indicate that the amygdala is necessarily involved in the acquisition, storage and expression of conditioned fear memory, and long-term potentiation (LTP) in the lateral nucleus of the amygdala is often proposed as the underlying synaptic mechanism of associative fear memory. Recent studies further implicate the prefrontal cortex-amygdala interaction in the extinction (or inhibition) of conditioned fear. Despite these advances, there are unresolved issues and findings that challenge the validity and sufficiency of the current amygdalar LTP hypothesis of fear conditioning. The purpose of this review is to critically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of evidence indicating that fear conditioning depend crucially upon the amygdalar circuit and plasticity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Association Learning / physiology
  • Avoidance Learning / physiology
  • Brain / physiology
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology*
  • Extinction, Psychological / physiology*
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Memory / physiology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*