Excitation of Diverse Classes of Cholecystokinin Interneurons in the Basal Amygdala Facilitates Fear Extinction

eNeuro. 2019 Nov 7;6(6):ENEURO.0220-19.2019. doi: 10.1523/ENEURO.0220-19.2019. Print 2019 Nov/Dec.


There is growing evidence that interneurons (INs) orchestrate neural activity and plasticity in corticoamygdala circuits to regulate fear behaviors. However, defining the precise role of cholecystokinin-expressing INs (CCK INs) remains elusive due to the technical challenge of parsing this population from CCK-expressing principal neurons (CCK PNs). Here, we used an intersectional genetic strategy in CCK-Cre;Dlx5/6-Flpe double-transgenic mice to study the anatomical, molecular and electrophysiological properties of CCK INs in the basal amygdala (BA) and optogenetically manipulate these cells during fear extinction. Electrophysiological recordings confirmed that this strategy targeted GABAergic cells and that a significant proportion expressed functional cannabinoid CB1 receptors; a defining characteristic of CCK-expressing basket cells. However, immunostaining showed that subsets of the genetically-targeted cells expressed either neuropeptide Y (NPY; 29%) or parvalbumin (PV; 17%), but not somatostatin (SOM) or Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II (CaMKII)-α. Further morphological and electrophysiological analyses showed that four IN types could be identified among the EYFP-expressing cells: CCK/cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1R)-expressing basket cells, neurogliaform cells, PV+ basket cells, and PV+ axo-axonic cells. At the behavioral level, in vivo optogenetic photostimulation of the targeted population during extinction acquisition led to reduced freezing on a light-free extinction retrieval test, indicating extinction memory facilitation; whereas photosilencing was without effect. Conversely, non-selective (i.e., inclusive of INs and PNs) photostimulation or photosilencing of CCK-targeted cells, using CCK-Cre single-transgenic mice, impaired extinction. These data reveal an unexpectedly high degree of phenotypic complexity in a unique population of extinction-modulating BA INs.

Keywords: basolateral amydala; emotional circuits; excitatory cells; inhibitory cells; mouse.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / metabolism
  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Cholecystokinin / metabolism*
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology
  • Extinction, Psychological / physiology*
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Interneurons / metabolism
  • Interneurons / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Optogenetics


  • Cholecystokinin