Noradrenergic enhancement of reconsolidation in the amygdala impairs extinction of conditioned fear in rats--a possible mechanism for the persistence of traumatic memories in PTSD

Depress Anxiety. 2011 Mar;28(3):186-93. doi: 10.1002/da.20803.


Background: Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is associated with enhanced noradrenergic activity. Animal and human studies demonstrate that noradrenergic stimulation augments consolidation of fear learning. Retrieval of well-established memories by presenting a learned fear cue triggers reconsolidation processes during which memories may be updated, weakened, or strengthened. We previously reported that noradrenergic blockade in the rat amygdala impairs reconsolidation of fear memories. Here we investigated the effects of noradrenergic enhancement on reconsolidation of learned fear.

Methods: Using auditory fear conditioning in rats, we tested the effects of postretrieval intraamygdala infusion of the β-adrenergic receptor agonist isoproterenol or the antagonist propranolol on conditioned fear in the amygdala.

Results: A single intraamygdala infusion of isoproterenol following a retrieval of a well-consolidated memory enhanced fear memory elicited by the learned fear stimulus and impaired extinction of this memory 48 hr later. Intraamygdala infusion of the β-adrenergic receptor antagonist propranolol following a consecutive retrieval trial blocked the enhancing effects of isoproterenol on fear memory.

Conclusions: Postretrieval β-adrenergic stimulation in the amygdala enhances reconsolidation of fear memories, making them resistant to extinction. Noradrenergic augmentation during retrieval of fear memories may thus contribute to persistence and severity of traumatic memories. Reconsolidation may be a useful tool in understanding the pathology of PTSD and may thus help in developing new and in modifying existing treatments of traumatic memories.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists / pharmacology
  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Amygdala / drug effects
  • Amygdala / physiopathology*
  • Animals
  • Conditioning, Classical / drug effects
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Extinction, Psychological / drug effects
  • Extinction, Psychological / physiology*
  • Fear / drug effects
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Implosive Therapy
  • Isoproterenol / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Norepinephrine / physiology*
  • Propranolol / pharmacology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, beta / drug effects
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, beta / physiology
  • Retention, Psychology / drug effects
  • Retention, Psychology / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / physiopathology*


  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists
  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, beta
  • Propranolol
  • Isoproterenol
  • Norepinephrine