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J Comp Neurol. 2012 Feb 1;520(2):295-314. doi: 10.1002/cne.22691.

Stability of presynaptic vesicle pools and changes in synapse morphology in the amygdala following fear learning in adult rats.

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Center for Neural Science, New York University, New York, New York, USA.


Changes in synaptic strength in the lateral amygdala (LA) that occur with fear learning are believed to mediate memory storage, and both presynaptic and postsynaptic mechanisms have been proposed to contribute. In a previous study we used serial section transmission electron microscopy (ssTEM) to observe differences in dendritic spine morphology in the adult rat LA after fear conditioning, conditioned inhibition (safety conditioning), or naïve control handling (Ostroff et al. [2010] Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 107:9418-9423). We have now reconstructed axons from the same dataset and compared their morphology and relationship to the postsynaptic spines between the three training groups. Relative to the naïve control and conditioned inhibition groups, the ratio of postsynaptic density (PSD) area to docked vesicles at synapses was greater in the fear-conditioned group, while the size of the synaptic vesicle pools was unchanged. There was significant coherence in synapse size between neighboring boutons on the same axon in the naïve control and conditioned inhibition groups, but not in the fear-conditioned group. Within multiple-synapse boutons, both synapse size and the PSD-to-docked vesicle ratio were variable between individual synapses. Our results confirm that synaptic connectivity increases in the LA with fear conditioning. In addition, we provide evidence that boutons along the same axon and even synapses on the same bouton are independent in their structure and learning-related morphological plasticity.

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