Ex vivo dissection of optogenetically activated mPFC and hippocampal inputs to neurons in the basolateral amygdala: implications for fear and emotional memory

Front Behav Neurosci. 2014 Mar 5;8:64. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2014.00064. eCollection 2014.


Many lines of evidence suggest that a reciprocally interconnected network comprising the amygdala, ventral hippocampus (vHC), and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) participates in different aspects of the acquisition and extinction of conditioned fear responses and fear behavior. This could at least in part be mediated by direct connections from mPFC or vHC to amygdala to control amygdala activity and output. However, currently the interactions between mPFC and vHC afferents and their specific targets in the amygdala are still poorly understood. Here, we use an ex-vivo optogenetic approach to dissect synaptic properties of inputs from mPFC and vHC to defined neuronal populations in the basal amygdala (BA), the area that we identify as a major target of these projections. We find that BA principal neurons (PNs) and local BA interneurons (INs) receive monosynaptic excitatory inputs from mPFC and vHC. In addition, both these inputs also recruit GABAergic feedforward inhibition in a substantial fraction of PNs, in some neurons this also comprises a slow GABAB-component. Amongst the innervated PNs we identify neurons that project back to subregions of the mPFC, indicating a loop between neurons in mPFC and BA, and a pathway from vHC to mPFC via BA. Interestingly, mPFC inputs also recruit feedforward inhibition in a fraction of INs, suggesting that these inputs can activate dis-inhibitory circuits in the BA. A general feature of both mPFC and vHC inputs to local INs is that excitatory inputs display faster rise and decay kinetics than in PNs, which would enable temporally precise signaling. However, mPFC and vHC inputs to both PNs and INs differ in their presynaptic release properties, in that vHC inputs are more depressing. In summary, our data describe novel wiring, and features of synaptic connections from mPFC and vHC to amygdala that could help to interpret functions of these interconnected brain areas at the network level.

Keywords: amygdala; conditioned fear; hippocampus; medial prefrontal cortex; optogenetics.