Fear extinction in rats: implications for human brain imaging and anxiety disorders

Biol Psychol. 2006 Jul;73(1):61-71. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2006.01.008. Epub 2006 Feb 13.


Fear extinction is the decrease in conditioned fear responses that normally occurs when a conditioned stimulus (CS) is repeatedly presented in the absence of the aversive unconditioned stimulus (US). Extinction does not erase the initial CS-US association, but is thought to form a new memory. After extinction training, extinction memory competes with conditioning memory for control of fear expression. Deficits in fear extinction are thought to contribute to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Herein, we review studies performed in rats showing that the medial prefrontal cortex plays a critical role in the retention and expression of extinction memory. We also review human studies indicating that prefrontal areas homologous to those critical for extinction in rats are structurally and functionally deficient in patients with PTSD. We then discuss how findings from rat studies may allow us to: (1) develop new fear extinction paradigms in humans, (2) make specific predictions as to the location of extinction-related areas in humans, and (3) improve current extinction-based behavioral therapies for anxiety disorders.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / physiopathology
  • Animals
  • Anxiety Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology
  • Diagnostic Imaging*
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Extinction, Psychological / physiology*
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology
  • Rats
  • Retention, Psychology / physiology
  • Species Specificity
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / physiopathology