Hunger Promotes Fear Extinction by Activation of an Amygdala Microcircuit

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2016 Jan;41(2):431-9. doi: 10.1038/npp.2015.163. Epub 2015 Jun 11.


Emotions control evolutionarily-conserved behavior that is central to survival in a natural environment. Imbalance within emotional circuitries, however, may result in malfunction and manifestation of anxiety disorders. Thus, a better understanding of emotional processes and, in particular, the interaction of the networks involved is of considerable clinical relevance. Although neurobiological substrates of emotionally controlled circuitries are increasingly evident, their mutual influences are not. To investigate interactions between hunger and fear, we performed Pavlovian fear conditioning in fasted wild-type mice and in mice with genetic modification of a feeding-related gene. Furthermore, we analyzed in these mice the electrophysiological microcircuits underlying fear extinction. Short-term fasting before fear acquisition specifically impaired long-term fear memory, whereas fasting before fear extinction facilitated extinction learning. Furthermore, genetic deletion of the Y4 receptor reduced appetite and completely impaired fear extinction, a phenomenon that was rescued by fasting. A marked increase in feed-forward inhibition between the basolateral and central amygdala has been proposed as a synaptic correlate of fear extinction and involves activation of the medial intercalated cells. This form of plasticity was lost in Y4KO mice. Fasting before extinction learning, however, resulted in specific activation of the medial intercalated neurons and re-established the enhancement of feed-forward inhibition in this amygdala microcircuit of Y4KO mice. Hence, consolidation of fear and extinction memories is differentially regulated by hunger, suggesting that fasting and modification of feeding-related genes could augment the effectiveness of exposure therapy and provide novel drug targets for treatment of anxiety disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Appetite / physiology
  • Conditioning, Psychological / physiology
  • Extinction, Psychological / physiology*
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Food Deprivation / physiology
  • Hunger / physiology*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Memory, Long-Term / physiology
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Mental Recall / physiology
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Receptors, Neuropeptide Y / genetics
  • Receptors, Neuropeptide Y / metabolism*
  • Tissue Culture Techniques


  • Receptors, Neuropeptide Y
  • neuropeptide Y4 receptor