Experiment 1 investigated the effects of catecholaminergic deafferentation or cell body lesions of the amygdala on fear conditioning to explicit and contextual cues. Bilateral infusions of quinolinic acid mainly damaged neurons within the basolateral region of the amygdala. 6-Hydroxydopamine infusions at the same coordinates resulted in an 86% depletion of noradrenaline and a 63% depletion of dopamine from the amygdala, but had no effect on the concentration of 5-hydroxytryptamine. After recovery from surgery, lesioned rats and controls were exposed to pairings of an auditory (clicker) conditioned stimulus and (foot shock) unconditioned stimulus in a distinctive environment. During testing, rats with both 6-hydroxydopamine and cell body lesions showed severely impaired conditioning to explicit cues, compared with controls, indicated by their reduced suppression of drinking when the conditioned stimulus was introduced into a separate, lick-operant chamber. Neither lesion affected fear conditioning to contextual cues, measured as preference for a "safe" environment over the one in which they were shocked. In Experiment 2, rats received bilateral, ibotenic acid-induced lesions of the hippocampal formation. Lesioned rats and controls were again tested for aversive conditioning to explicit and contextual cues. Rats with cell body lesions of the hippocampus showed normal suppression of drinking in the presence of the conditioned stimulus, but were severely impaired in choosing the safe environment based on contextual cues alone. These results suggest a double dissociation of the effects of amygdala and hippocampal damage on fear conditioning to explicit and contextual cues.