Contextual fear conditioning depresses infralimbic excitability

Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2016 Apr;130:77-82. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2016.01.015. Epub 2016 Feb 6.


Patients with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) show hypo-active ventromedial prefrontal cortices (vmPFC) that correlate with their impaired ability to discriminate between safe and dangerous contexts and cues. Previously, we found that auditory fear conditioning depresses the excitability of neurons populating the homologous structure in rodents, the infralimbic cortex (IL). However, it is undetermined if IL depression was mediated by the cued or contextual information. The objective of this study was to examine whether contextual information was sufficient to depress IL neuronal excitability. After exposing rats to context-alone, pseudoconditioning, or contextual fear conditioning, we used whole-cell current-clamp recordings to examine the excitability of IL neurons in prefrontal brain slices. We found that contextual fear conditioning reduced IL neuronal firing in response to depolarizing current steps. In addition, neurons from contextual fear conditioned animals showed increased slow afterhyperpolarization potentials (sAHPs). Moreover, the observed changes in IL excitability correlated with contextual fear expression, suggesting that IL depression may contribute to the encoding of contextual fear.

Keywords: Afterhyperpolarization; Brain slices; Contextual fear conditioning; Electrophysiology; Intrinsic excitability; Prefrontal cortex.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology*
  • Extinction, Psychological / physiology
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Limbic System / physiology*
  • Male
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley