The impact of doxycycline on human contextual fear memory

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2024 May;241(5):1065-1077. doi: 10.1007/s00213-024-06540-w. Epub 2024 Feb 9.


Rationale: Previous work identified an attenuating effect of the matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) inhibitor doxycycline on fear memory consolidation. This may present a new mechanistic approach for the prevention of trauma-related disorders. However, so far, this has only been unambiguously demonstrated in a cued delay fear conditioning paradigm, in which a simple geometric cue predicted a temporally overlapping aversive outcome. This form of learning is mainly amygdala dependent. Psychological trauma often involves the encoding of contextual cues, which putatively necessitates partly different neural circuits including the hippocampus. The role of MMP signalling in the underlying neural pathways in humans is unknown.

Methods: Here, we investigated the effect of doxycycline on configural fear conditioning in a double-blind placebo-controlled randomised trial with 100 (50 females) healthy human participants.

Results: Our results show that participants successfully learned and retained, after 1 week, the context-shock association in both groups. We find no group difference in fear memory retention in either of our pre-registered outcome measures, startle eye-blink responses and pupil dilation. Contrary to expectations, we identified elevated fear-potentiated startle in the doxycycline group early in the recall test, compared to the placebo group.

Conclusion: Our results suggest that doxycycline does not substantially attenuate contextual fear memory. This might limit its potential for clinical application.

Keywords: Doxycycline; Fear memory; MMP inhibition; Memory consolidation; Memory modification.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Cues
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Doxycycline* / metabolism
  • Doxycycline* / pharmacology
  • Fear / physiology
  • Female
  • Hippocampus
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology
  • Memory* / physiology


  • Doxycycline