Developmental age and fatty acid amide hydrolase genetic variation converge to mediate fear regulation in female mice

Dev Psychobiol. 2023 Sep;65(6):e22409. doi: 10.1002/dev.22409.


Anxiety disorders are more prevalent in females than in males, yet a majority of basic neuroscience studies are performed in males. Furthermore, anxiety disorders peak in prevalence during adolescence, yet little is known about neurodevelopmental trajectories of fear expression, particularly in females. To examine these factors, we fear conditioned juvenile, adolescent, and adult female mice and exposed them to fear extinction and a long-term recall test. For this, we used knock-in mice containing a common human mutation in the gene for fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), the primary catabolic enzyme for the endocannabinoid anandamide (FAAH-IN). This mutation has been shown to impart a low-anxiety phenotype in humans, and in rodents relative to their wild-type littermates. We find an impact of the FAAH polymorphism on developmental changes in fear behavior. Specifically, the FAAH polymorphism appears to induce a state of hypervigilance (increased fear) during adolescence. We also used markerless pose estimation software to classify alternative behaviors outside of freezing. These analyses revealed age differences in vigilance to indicators of threat and in the propensity of mice to explore an aversive environment, though genotypic differences were minimal. These findings address a gap in the literature regarding developmental patterns of fear learning and memory as well as the mechanistic contributions of the endocannabinoid system in females.

Keywords: FAAH; anxiety; behavior; endocannabinoids; extinction; fear; female.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Endocannabinoids*
  • Extinction, Psychological
  • Fear*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Polymorphism, Genetic


  • Endocannabinoids
  • fatty-acid amide hydrolase