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Neuroscience. 2006 Jul 7;140(3):769-78. Epub 2006 Apr 3.

Carbachol injections into the nucleus accumbens disrupt acquisition and expression of fear-potentiated startle and freezing in rats.

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Tierphysiologie, Universität Tübingen, Auf der Morgenstelle 28, D-72076 Tübingen, Germany.


The nucleus accumbens is involved in different types of emotional learning, ranging from appetitive instrumental learning to Pavlovian fear conditioning. In previous studies, we found that temporary inactivation of the nucleus accumbens blocked both the acquisition and expression of conditioned fear. This was not due to altered dopaminergic activity as we have also found that intra-nucleus accumbens infusions of the dopamine agonist amphetamine do not affect either the acquisition or the expression of conditioned fear. Therefore, in the present study we examined whether cholinergic activity in the nucleus accumbens is involved in the acquisition and expression of conditioned fear. Specifically, the effect of intra-nucleus accumbens infusions of the unselective cholinergic agonist carbachol on the acquisition and expression of conditioned fear was assessed. Across several experiments, we measured fear to visual and acoustic conditioned stimuli and to the experimental context. Further, two different measures of conditioned fear were recorded: fear potentiation of startle and freezing. Intra-nucleus accumbens carbachol infusions disrupted acquisition as well as expression of conditioned fear, regardless of the modality of the fear-eliciting stimulus or of the specific measure of conditioned fear. This disruption of conditioned fear was not simply a by-product of enhanced motor activity which also occurred after intra-nucleus accumbens carbachol infusions. Interestingly, despite the substantial effect of intra-nucleus accumbens carbachol on expression of conditioned fear, the results of the final experiment suggest that these rats extinguish similarly to control rats. Taken together, the present results indicate that acetylcholine within the nucleus accumbens is important for the learning and retrieval of conditioned fear.

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