Survival depends on the ability of animals to select the appropriate behavior in response to threat and safety sensory cues. However, the synaptic and circuit mechanisms by which the brain learns to encode accurate predictors of threat and safety remain largely unexplored. Here, we show that frontal association cortex (FrA) pyramidal neurons of mice integrate auditory cues and basolateral amygdala (BLA) inputs non-linearly in a NMDAR-dependent manner. We found that the response of FrA pyramidal neurons was more pronounced to Gaussian noise than to pure frequency tones, and that the activation of BLA-to-FrA axons was the strongest in between conditioning pairings. Blocking BLA-to-FrA signaling specifically at the time of presentation of Gaussian noise (but not 8 kHz tone) between conditioning trials impaired the formation of auditory fear memories. Taken together, our data reveal a circuit mechanism that facilitates the formation of fear traces in the FrA, thus providing a new framework for probing discriminative learning and related disorders.
Keywords: cortical plasticity; dendritic integration; fear learning; in vivo; mouse; neuroscience; sound processing.
© 2020, Aime et al.