Distinct Hippocampal Pathways Mediate Dissociable Roles of Context in Memory Retrieval

Cell. 2016 Nov 3;167(4):961-972.e16. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2016.09.051. Epub 2016 Oct 20.


Memories about sensory experiences are tightly linked to the context in which they were formed. Memory contextualization is fundamental for the selection of appropriate behavioral reactions needed for survival, yet the underlying neuronal circuits are poorly understood. By combining trans-synaptic viral tracing and optogenetic manipulation, we found that the ventral hippocampus (vHC) and the amygdala, two key brain structures encoding context and emotional experiences, interact via multiple parallel pathways. A projection from the vHC to the basal amygdala mediates fear behavior elicited by a conditioned context, whereas a parallel projection from a distinct subset of vHC neurons onto midbrain-projecting neurons in the central amygdala is necessary for context-dependent retrieval of cued fear memories. Our findings demonstrate that two fundamentally distinct roles of context in fear memory retrieval are processed by distinct vHC output pathways, thereby allowing for the formation of robust contextual fear memories while preserving context-dependent behavioral flexibility.

Keywords: basal amygdala; central amygdala; contextual fear; fear conditioning; fear renewal; optogenetics; rabies-ArchT; trans-synaptic tracing; ventral hippocampus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Conditioning, Psychological
  • Electrophysiological Phenomena
  • Fear
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Memory*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neural Pathways*
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Optogenetics
  • Rabies virus / genetics
  • Synapses