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J Neurophysiol. 2013 Aug;110(4):844-61. doi: 10.1152/jn.00961.2012. Epub 2013 May 22.

Fear signaling in the prelimbic-amygdala circuit: a computational modeling and recording study.

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  • 1Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri 65211, USA.


The acquisition and expression of conditioned fear depends on prefrontal-amygdala circuits. Auditory fear conditioning increases the tone responses of lateral amygdala neurons, but the increase is transient, lasting only a few hundred milliseconds after tone onset. It was recently reported that that the prelimbic (PL) prefrontal cortex transforms transient lateral amygdala input into a sustained PL output, which could drive fear responses via projections to the lateral division of basal amygdala (BL). To explore the possible mechanisms involved in this transformation, we developed a large-scale biophysical model of the BL-PL network, consisting of 850 conductance-based Hodgkin-Huxley-type cells, calcium-based learning, and neuromodulator effects. The model predicts that sustained firing in PL can be derived from BL-induced release of dopamine and norepinephrine that is maintained by PL-BL interconnections. These predictions were confirmed with physiological recordings from PL neurons during fear conditioning with the selective β-blocker propranolol and by inactivation of BL with muscimol. Our model suggests that PL has a higher bandwidth than BL, due to PL's decreased internal inhibition and lower spiking thresholds. It also suggests that variations in specific microcircuits in the PL-BL interconnection can have a significant impact on the expression of fear, possibly explaining individual variability in fear responses. The human homolog of PL could thus be an effective target for anxiety disorders.


fear conditioning; muscimol; neuromodulator; tone response

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