Prefrontal neuronal circuits of contextual fear conditioning

Genes Brain Behav. 2015 Jan;14(1):22-36. doi: 10.1111/gbb.12181. Epub 2014 Oct 27.


Over the past years, numerous studies have provided a clear understanding of the neuronal circuits and mechanisms involved in the formation, expression and extinction phases of conditioned cued fear memories. Yet, despite a strong clinical interest, a detailed understanding of these memory phases for contextual fear memories is still missing. Besides the well-known role of the hippocampus in encoding contextual fear behavior, growing evidence indicates that specific regions of the medial prefrontal cortex differentially regulate contextual fear acquisition and storage in both animals and humans that ultimately leads to expression of contextual fear memories. In this review, we provide a detailed description of the recent literature on the role of distinct prefrontal subregions in contextual fear behavior and provide a working model of the neuronal circuits involved in the acquisition, expression and generalization of contextual fear memories.

Keywords: Anxiety disorders; contextual fear conditioning; fear acquisition; fear discrimination; fear expression; fear generalization; freezing; medial prefrontal cortex; neuronal circuits; post-traumatic stress disorder.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conditioning, Classical*
  • Connectome
  • Fear*
  • Humans
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*