Rationale: Previous studies demonstrated that pharmacological blockade of CB1 cannabinoid receptors decreases the extinction of conditioned fear and spatial memory in rodents. However, the effects of CB1 cannabinoid receptor activation in this response remain unclear.
Objectives: To evaluate the effects of the cannabinoid agonist WIN 55,212-2 (WIN) and the cannabinoid antagonist SR 147778 (SR) on the extinction of contextual fear memory in rats 24 h or 30 days after fear conditioning.
Methods: For fear conditioning, rats were placed in the conditioning chamber for 3 min and received a 1-s electric foot shock (1.5 mA). Retrieval testing consisted of a 3-min exposure to the conditioning chamber and extinction training consisted of successive 9-min exposures at 24-h intervals. Rats were also evaluated in the open field and water maze reversal task.
Results: The administration of SR (1.0 mg/kg, i.p.) and WIN (0.25 mg/kg, i.p.) before extinction training disrupted and facilitated, respectively, the extinction of 24 h contextual fear memory. These effects were not related to any disturbance in memory retrieval, unconditioned freezing expression, or locomotor activity. WIN (0.25 mg/kg, i.p.) also facilitated the extinction of 30-day-old contextual fear memory, while the prior administration of SR (0.2 mg/kg, i.p.) antagonized this response. The facilitative effect of WIN on memory extinction does not seem to be specific for contextual fear memory because it was also observed in the water maze reversal task.
Conclusions: These results suggest cannabinoid receptor agonists as potential drugs to treat anxiety disorders related to the retrieval of aversive memories.