The neuropeptide corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) is released during periods of anxiety and modulates learning and memory formation. One region with particularly dense concentrations of CRF receptors is the basolateral nucleus of the amygdala (BLA), a critical structure for both Pavlovian fear conditioning and fear extinction. While CRF has the potential to modify amygdala-dependent learning, its effect on fear extinction has not yet been assessed. In the present study, we examined the modulatory role of CRF on within-session extinction and fear extinction consolidation. Intra-BLA infusions of the CRF binding protein ligand inhibitor CRF(6-33) which increases endogenous levels of free CRF, or intra-BLA infusions of exogenous CRF made prior to fear extinction learning did not affect either fear expression or within-session extinction learning. However, when these animals were tested twenty-four hours later, drug free, they showed impairments in extinction memory. Conversely, intra-BLA infusions of the CRF receptor antagonist α-helical CRF(9-41) enhanced memory of fear extinction. These results suggest that increased CRF levels within the BLA at the time of fear extinction learning actively impair the consolidation of long-term fear extinction.
Keywords: Amygdala; Anxiety; Corticotropin-releasing factor; Fear extinction; Fear learning.
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