Mechanisms contributing to the induction and storage of Pavlovian fear memories in the lateral amygdala

Learn Mem. 2013 Jul 17;20(8):421-30. doi: 10.1101/lm.030262.113.


The relative contributions of plasticity in the amygdala vs. its afferent pathways to conditioned fear remain controversial. Some believe that thalamic and cortical neurons transmitting information about the conditioned stimulus (CS) to the lateral amygdala (LA) serve a relay function. Others maintain that thalamic and/or cortical plasticity is critically involved in fear conditioning. To address this question, we developed a large-scale biophysical model of the LA that could reproduce earlier findings regarding the cellular correlates of fear conditioning in LA. We then conducted model experiments that examined whether fear memories depend on (1) training-induced increases in the responsiveness of thalamic and cortical neurons projecting to LA, (2) plasticity at the synapses they form in LA, and/or (3) plasticity at synapses between LA neurons. These tests revealed that training-induced increases in the responsiveness of afferent neurons are required for fear memory formation. However, once the memory has been formed, this factor is no longer required because the efficacy of the synapses that thalamic and cortical neurons form with LA cells has augmented enough to maintain the memory. In contrast, our model experiments suggest that plasticity at synapses between LA neurons plays a minor role in maintaining the fear memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Conditioning, Psychological / physiology
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Neural Networks, Computer
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*