Neurobiology of learning and memory

Newly acquired and reactivated contextual fear memories are more intense and prone to generalize after activation of prelimbic cortex NMDA receptors.

PMID 27919830


Activity in the rodent prelimbic (PL) cortex contributes to consolidation, retrieval and reconsolidation of learned fear. The PL cortex is considered homologous to the primate dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC). In patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the dACC is often reported to be hyperactive after acquisition and/or around the retrieval of the traumatic memory. It is still unknown, however, whether there is a relationship between altered dACC functioning at these time points and PTSD-associated behavioral outcomes, such as fear overgeneralization. The present study sought to investigate this matter by associating contextual fear conditioning with bilateral and selective activation of PL cortex N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) glutamate receptors with NMDA (0.03-0.3nmol) while the learned fear was being consolidated, retrieved or reconsolidated. We report that this pharmacological intervention induced generalized fear expression and/or extinction deficits in animals subjected to a strong contextual fear conditioning protocol when conducted post-acquisition, pre-retrieval or post-retrieval. These results suggest that newly acquired and reactivated fear memories undergo abnormal consolidation or reconsolidation after PL cortex NMDA receptor activation. The consolidation or reconsolidation of a contextual fear memory trace induced by a weak fear training protocol was also potentiated by PL cortex NMDA receptor activation. Altogether, the present findings connect altered PL cortex activity with changes in specificity and/or intensity of a contextual fear memory, which might shed light on the PTSD neurobiology and related behavioral outcomes.

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N-Methyl-D-aspartic acid, ≥98% (TLC), solid