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J Neurosci. 2000 Aug 15;20(16):6225-31.

The role of ventromedial prefrontal cortex in the recovery of extinguished fear.

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  • 1Department of Physiology, Ponce School of Medicine, Ponce, Puerto Rico 00732, USA.


Conditioned fear responses to a tone paired with footshock extinguish when the tone is presented repeatedly in the absence of shock. Rather than erase the tone-shock association, extinction is thought to involve new learning accompanied by inhibition of conditioned responding. Despite much interest in extinction from a clinical perspective, little is known about the neural circuits that are involved. Although the prefrontal cortex has a well established role in the inhibition of inappropriate behaviors, previous reports have disagreed as to the role of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) in extinction. We have reexamined the effects of electrolytic vmPFC lesions made before training on the acquisition, extinction, and recovery of conditioned fear responses in a 2 d experiment. On Day 1 vmPFC lesions had no effect on acquisition or extinction of conditioned freezing and suppression of bar pressing. On Day 2 sham rats recovered only 27% of their acquired freezing, whereas vmPFC-lesioned rats recovered 86%, which was indistinguishable from a control group that never received extinction. The high recovery in lesioned rats could not be attributed to decreased motivation or altered sensitivity to footshock. vmPFC lesions that spared the caudal infralimbic (IL) nucleus had no effect. Thus, the vmPFC (particularly the IL nucleus) is not necessary for expression of extinction, but it is necessary for the recall of extinction learning after a long delay. These data suggest a role of the vmPFC in consolidation of extinction learning or the recall of contexts in which extinction took place.

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