Adolescent conditioning affects rate of adult fear, safety and reward learning during discriminative conditioning

Sci Rep. 2018 Nov 23;8(1):17315. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-35678-9.


Fear and reward memories formed in adulthood are influenced by prior experiences. Experiences that occur during sensitive periods, such as adolescence, can have an especially high impact on later learning. Fear and reward memories form when aversive or appetitive events co-occur with initially neutral stimuli, that then gain negative or positive emotional load. Fear and reward seeking behaviours are influenced by safety cues, signalling the non-occurrence of a threat. It is unclear how adolescent fear or reward pre-conditioning influences later dynamics of these conditioned emotions, and conditioned safety. In this study, we presented male rats with adolescent fear or reward pre-conditioning, followed by discriminative conditioning in adulthood. In this discriminative task, rats are simultaneously conditioned to reward, fear and safety cues. We show that adolescent reward pre-conditioning did not affect the rate of adult reward conditioning, but instead accelerated adult safety conditioning. Adolescent fear pre-conditioning accelerated adult fear and reward seeking behaviours but delayed adult safety expression. Together, our results suggest that the dynamics of safety conditioning can be influenced by adolescent priming of different valences. Taking adolescent experiences into consideration can have implications on how we approach therapy options for later learned fear disorders where safety learning is compromised.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology*
  • Fear / psychology*
  • Learning
  • Male
  • Memory*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reward*