Activation of Nigrostriatal Dopamine Neurons during Fear Extinction Prevents the Renewal of Fear

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2018 Feb;43(3):665-672. doi: 10.1038/npp.2017.235. Epub 2017 Oct 4.


Manipulations that increase dopamine (DA) signaling can enhance fear extinction, but the circuits involved remain unknown. DA neurons originating in the substantia nigra (SN) projecting to the dorsal striatum (DS) are traditionally viewed in the context of motor behavior, but growing data implicate this nigrostriatal circuit in emotion. Here we investigated the role of nigrostriatal DA in fear extinction. Activation of SN DA neurons with designer Gq-coupled receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs (Gq-DREADD) during fear extinction had no effect on fear extinction acquisition, but enhanced fear extinction memory and blocked the renewal of fear in a novel context; a pattern of data paralleled by cFos expression in the central amygdala. D1 receptors in the DS are a likely target mediating the effects of SN DA activation. D1-expressing neurons in the medial DS (DMS) were recruited during fear extinction, and Gq-DREADD-induced DA potentiated activity of D1-expressing neurons in both the DMS and the lateral DS (DLS). Pharmacological activation of D1 receptors in the DS did not impact fear extinction acquisition or memory, but blocked fear renewal in a novel context. These data suggest that activation of SN DA neurons and DS D1 receptors during fear extinction render fear extinction memory resistant to the disrupting effects of changes in contextual contingencies, perhaps by recruiting habitual learning strategies involving the DLS. Nigrostriatal DA thus represents a novel target to enhance long-term efficacy of extinction-based therapies for anxiety and trauma-related disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Auditory Perception / drug effects
  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Corpus Striatum / cytology
  • Corpus Striatum / drug effects
  • Corpus Striatum / physiology
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / cytology
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / drug effects
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / physiology*
  • Extinction, Psychological / drug effects
  • Extinction, Psychological / physiology*
  • Fear / drug effects
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Male
  • Memory / drug effects
  • Memory / physiology
  • Nucleus Accumbens / cytology
  • Nucleus Accumbens / drug effects
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Rats, Transgenic
  • Receptors, Dopamine D1 / metabolism
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2 / metabolism
  • Substantia Nigra / cytology
  • Substantia Nigra / drug effects
  • Substantia Nigra / physiology*


  • DRD2 protein, rat
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Dopamine D1
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2