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J Neurosci. 2009 Sep 2;29(35):10802-8. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0596-09.2009.

Fear extinction across development: the involvement of the medial prefrontal cortex as assessed by temporary inactivation and immunohistochemistry.

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School of Psychology, The University of New South Wales, Kensington, Sydney, New South Wales 2052, Australia.


Extinction in adult animals, including humans, appears to involve the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). However, the role of mPFC in extinction across development has not yet been studied. Given several recent demonstrations of developmental differences in extinction of conditioned fear at a behavioral level, different neural circuitries may mediate fear extinction across development. In all experiments, noise conditioned stimulus (CS) and shock unconditioned stimulus (US) were used. In experiment 1A, temporary unilateral inactivation of the mPFC during extinction training impaired long-term extinction the following day in postnatal day 24 (P24) rats but not in P17 rats. In experiment 1B, bilateral inactivation of the mPFC again failed to disrupt long-term extinction in P17 rats. In experiment 2, extinction training increased phosphorylated mitogen-activated protein kinase (pMAPK) in the mPFC for P24 rats but not for P17 rats, whereas rats of both ages displayed elevated pMAPK in the amygdala. Across both ages, "not trained," "reactivated," and "no extinction" control groups expressed very low numbers of pMAPK-immunoreactive (IR) neurons across both neural structures. This result indicates that the mere conditioning experience, the exposure to the CS, or the expression of CS-elicited fear in and of itself is not sufficient to explain the observed increase in pMAPK-IR neurons in the mPFC and/or the amygdala after extinction. Together, these findings show that extinction in P17 rats does not involve the mPFC, which has important theoretical and clinical implications for the treatment of anxiety disorders in humans.

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