GABAergic microcircuitry of fear memory encoding

Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2021 Oct;184:107504. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2021.107504. Epub 2021 Aug 20.


The paradigm of fear conditioning is largely responsible for our current understanding of how memories are encoded at the cellular level. Its most fundamental underlying mechanism is considered to be plasticity of synaptic connections between excitatory projection neurons (PNs). However, recent studies suggest that while PNs execute critical memory functions, their activity at key stages of learning and recall is extensively orchestrated by a diverse array of GABAergic interneurons (INs). Here we review the contributions of genetically-defined INs to processing of threat-related stimuli in fear conditioning, with a particular focus on how synaptic interactions within interconnected networks of INs modulates PN activity through both inhibition and disinhibition. Furthermore, we discuss accumulating evidence that GABAergic microcircuits are an important locus for synaptic plasticity during fear learning and therefore a viable substrate for long-term memory. These findings suggest that further investigation of INs could unlock unique conceptual insights into the organization and function of fear memory networks.

Keywords: Disinhibition; Engram; Fear conditioning; GABAergic; Interneuron; Memory trace; Synaptic plasticity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Fear / psychology
  • GABAergic Neurons / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Memory Consolidation / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways