Reconsolidation/destabilization, extinction and forgetting of fear memory as therapeutic targets for PTSD

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2019 Jan;236(1):49-57. doi: 10.1007/s00213-018-5086-2. Epub 2018 Oct 29.


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder associated with memories of traumatic experiences. Conditioned fear memory, a representative model of traumatic memories, is observed across species from lower to higher animals, including humans. Numerous studies have investigated the mechanisms of conditioned fear memory and have led to the identification of the underlying processes involved in fear memory regulation, including cellular and systems consolidation of fear conditioning, destabilization/reconsolidation and extinction after fear memory retrieval, and forgetting of fear memory. These studies suggested that mechanisms for fear memory regulation are shared by humans and other higher animals. Additionally, rodent studies have identified the mechanisms of fear memory at the molecular, cellular, and circuit levels. Findings from these studies in rodents have been applied to facilitate the development and improvement of PTSD intervention. For instance, reconsolidation and extinction of fear memories have been applied for PTSD treatment to improve prolonged exposure (PE) therapy, an effective psychotherapy for PTSD. Combination of medications weakening retrieved traumatic memory (e.g., by facilitating both destabilization and extinction) with PE therapy may contribute to improvement of PTSD. Interestingly, a recent study in mice identified forgetting of fear memory as another potential therapeutic target for PTSD. A better understanding of the mechanisms involved in fear memory processes is likely to facilitate the development of better treatments for PTSD. This review describes fear memory processes and their mechanisms and discusses the pros and cons of applying how this knowledge can be applied in the development of interventions for PTSD.

Keywords: Consolidation; Destabilization; Extinction; Fear memory; Forgetting; PTSD; Reconsolidation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Extinction, Psychological / physiology*
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Fear / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Implosive Therapy / methods*
  • Memory / physiology
  • Memory Consolidation / physiology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / therapy