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Stress. 2009 Mar;12(2):125-33. doi: 10.1080/10253890802137320.

Exposure to a stressor produces a long lasting enhancement of fear learning in rats.

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Department of Anesthesia, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94143, USA.


In contextual fear conditioning, footshock is given in a context, and re-exposure to this context elicits the conditional defensive response of freezing, a reliable behavioral index of conditional fear. Normally, the amount of contextual freezing is directly proportional to the number of shocks an animal receives in the context. However, pre-exposure to a stressor can produce an enhancement in conditional freezing. Pre-exposure to repeated footshock in one context produces an enhancement of conditional freezing to cues associated with a single shock in a second distinct context. This model of stress-enhanced fear learning (SEFL) can be utilized to study how stress affects learning of future aversive events. The experiments in this paper characterize the magnitude and longevity of SEFL. In the first experiment, the number of footshocks given during the pre-exposure session was varied and conditional fear to the single shock was assessed. Pre-exposure to 1 shock did not produce an enhancement in fear learning in the second context, but pre-exposure to 4 or 15 shocks did. The time-course of the enhancement was examined in the next two experiments. These experiments show that SEFL persists for at least 3 months.

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