Fear extinction allows for adaptive control of learned fear responses but often fails, resulting in a renewal or spontaneous recovery of the extinguished fear, i.e., forgetting of the extinction memory readily occurs. Using an activity-dependent neuronal labeling strategy, we demonstrate that engram neurons for fear extinction memory are dynamically positioned in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), basolateral amygdala (BLA), and ventral hippocampus (vHPC), which constitute an engram construct in the term of directional engram synaptic connectivity from the BLA or vHPC to mPFC, but not that in the opposite direction, for retrieval of extinction memory. Fear renewal or spontaneous recovery switches the extinction engram construct from an accessible to inaccessible state, whereas additional extinction learning or optogenetic induction of long-term potentiation restores the directional engram connectivity and prevents the return of fear. Thus, the plasticity of engram construct underlies forgetting of extinction memory.
© 2022. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.