The GABAa agonist, muscimol (0.5 microgram in 0.5 microliter saline), or vehicle was infused into the lateral and basal amygdala nuclei prior to fear conditioning or testing in rats. Rats given muscimol before conditioning and saline before testing showed much less freezing to the conditioned stimulus (CS) and the context than did controls given saline before training and testing. Rats given saline before training and muscimol prior to testing also showed low levels of freezing to the CS and the context. In follow-up procedures, rats with acquisition initially blocked by pretraining muscimol infusions froze in a manner similar to that of controls when retrained and retested with saline infusions. Rats trained with saline but tested with muscimol presumably became conditioned but could express the learning. When retested with saline, they froze in the same manner as controls. Thus, activity in the lateral and basal amygdala appears to play an essential role in the acquisition and expression of fear conditioning.