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Stress. 2009 Jul;12(4):305-12. doi: 10.1080/10253890802379955.

Effects of enrichment predominate over those of chronic stress on fear-related behavior in male rats.

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Department of Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.


The ability to discriminate between spatial contexts is crucial for survival. This ability can be succinctly tested in the paradigm of fear renewal. In this paradigm, a change of spatial context results in robust renewal of conditioned fear, even if the conditioned fear has been previously extinguished. Chronic stress and environmental enrichment are known to affect learning and memory in opposite directions, with the former generally being deleterious. In this study, we examined the effects of chronic stress and enrichment on fear renewal in rats. Fear was evaluated as freezing responses to an auditory conditioning stimulus initially associated with footshocks in context A; fear extinction was evaluated in a novel spatial context (B) without the conditioned stimulus, and renewal in a third context (C) with the auditory cue. Specifically, we aimed to test if environmental enrichment can oppose the effects of chronic stress on fear renewal. We exposed different groups of adult male Wistar rats (6-12 per group) to 10 days of chronic stress (immobilization for 2 h daily), 14 days of enrichment, or a combination of both. We report that chronic stress compromised fear extinction and renewal. In contrast, enrichment re-established fear renewal in chronically stressed rats. Enhanced contextual modulation of fear memories in animals experiencing environmental enrichment while stressed could reflect an adaptive response. This could allow greater flexibility to optimize vigilance in differing spatial contexts.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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