Ketamine accelerates fear extinction via mTORC1 signaling

Neurobiol Dis. 2017 Apr:100:1-8. doi: 10.1016/j.nbd.2016.12.026. Epub 2016 Dec 30.


Impaired fear extinction contributes to the persistence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and can be utilized for the study of novel therapeutic agents. Glutamate plays an important role in the formation of traumatic memories, and in the pathophysiology and treatment of PTSD, highlighting several possible drug targets. Recent clinical studies demonstrate that infusion of ketamine, a glutamate NMDA receptor antagonist, rapidly and significantly reduces symptom severity in PTSD patients. In the present study, we examine the mechanisms underlying the actions of ketamine in a rodent model of fear conditioning, extinction, and renewal. Rats received ketamine or saline 24h after fear conditioning and were then subjected to extinction-training on each of the following three days. Ketamine administration enhanced extinction on the second day of training (i.e., reduced freezing behavior to cue) and produced a long-lasting reduction in freezing on exposure to cue plus context 8days later. Additionally, ketamine and extinction exposure increased levels of mTORC1 in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), a region involved in the acquisition and retrieval of extinction, and infusion of the selective mTORC1 inhibitor rapamycin into the mPFC blocked the effects of ketamine on extinction. Ketamine plus extinction also increased cFos in the mPFC and administration of a glutamate-AMPA receptor antagonist blocked the effects of ketamine. These results support the hypothesis that ketamine produces long-lasting mTORC1/protein synthesis and activity dependent effects on neuronal circuits that enhance the expression of extinction and could represent a novel approach for the treatment of PTSD.

Keywords: Fear extinction; Ketamine; Medial prefrontal cortex; PTSD; mTOR.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology
  • Extinction, Psychological / drug effects*
  • Fear / drug effects*
  • Fear / physiology
  • Ketamine / pharmacology*
  • Male
  • Mechanistic Target of Rapamycin Complex 1 / metabolism*
  • Memory / drug effects*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / drug effects
  • Prefrontal Cortex / metabolism
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / drug effects
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / drug therapy


  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate
  • Ketamine
  • Mechanistic Target of Rapamycin Complex 1