Understanding posttraumatic stress disorder through fear conditioning, extinction and reconsolidation

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2016 Dec;71:48-57. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2016.08.023. Epub 2016 Aug 31.


Careaga MBL, Girardi CEN, Suchecki D. Understanding posttraumatic stress disorder through fear conditioning, extinction and reconsolidation. NEUROSCI BIOBEHAV REV -Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychopathology characterized by exacerbation of fear response. A dysregulated fear response may be explained by dysfunctional learning and memory, a hypothesis that was proposed decades ago. A key component of PTSD is fear conditioning and the study of this phenomenon in laboratory has expanded the understanding of the underlying neurobiological changes in PTSD. Furthermore, traumatic memories are strongly present even years after the trauma and maintenance of this memory is usually related to behavioral and physiological maladaptive responses. Persistence of traumatic memory may be explained by a dysregulation of two memory processes: extinction and reconsolidation. The former may explain the over-expression of fear responses as an imbalance between traumatic and extinction memory. The latter, in turn, explains the maintenance of fear responses as a result of enhancing trauma-related memories. Thus, this review will discuss the importance of fear conditioning for the establishment of PTSD and how failure in extinction or abnormal reconsolidation may contribute to the maintenance of fear response overtime.

Keywords: Extinction; Fear conditioning; Memory persistence; PTSD; Reconsolidation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Extinction, Psychological
  • Fear*
  • Humans
  • Memory
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic*