Hippocampal neurogenesis regulates recovery of defensive responses by recruiting threat- and extinction-signalling brain networks

Sci Rep. 2019 Feb 27;9(1):2939. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-39136-y.


Safe exposure to a context that was previously associated with threat leads to extinction of defensive responses. Such contextual fear extinction involves the formation of a new memory that inhibits a previously acquired contextual fear memory. However, fear-related responses often return with the simple passage of time (spontaneous fear recovery). Given that contextual fear and extinction memories are hippocampus-dependent and hippocampal neurogenesis has been reported to modify preexisting memories, we hypothesized that neurogenesis-mediated modification of preexisting extinction memory would modify spontaneous fear recovery. To test this, rats underwent contextual fear conditioning followed by extinction. Subsequently, we exposed rats to an enriched environment or focal X-irradiation to enhance or ablate hippocampal neurogenesis, respectively. Over a month later, rats were tested to evaluate spontaneous fear recovery. We found that enhancing neurogenesis after, but not before, extinction prevented fear recovery. In contrast, neurogenesis ablation after, but not before, extinction promoted fear recovery. Using the neuronal activity marker c-Fos, we identified brain regions recruited in these opposing neurogenesis-mediated changes during fear recovery. Together, our findings indicate that neurogenesis manipulation after extinction learning modifies fear recovery by recruiting brain network activity that mediates the expression of preexisting contextual fear and extinction memories.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Conditioning, Psychological / physiology*
  • Extinction, Psychological / physiology*
  • Fear / physiology
  • Hippocampus / growth & development*
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Neurogenesis / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos