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PLoS One. 2011;6(7):e22600. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0022600. Epub 2011 Jul 27.

Social defeat: impact on fear extinction and amygdala-prefrontal cortical theta synchrony in 5-HTT deficient mice.

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Institute of Physiology I, Westfälische Wilhelms-University, Münster, Germany.


Emotions, such as fear and anxiety, can be modulated by both environmental and genetic factors. One genetic factor is for example the genetically encoded variation of the serotonin transporter (5-HTT) expression. In this context, the 5-HTT plays a key role in the regulation of central 5-HT neurotransmission, which is critically involved in the physiological regulation of emotions including fear and anxiety. However, a systematic study which examines the combined influence of environmental and genetic factors on fear-related behavior and the underlying neurophysiological basis is missing. Therefore, in this study we used the 5-HTT-deficient mouse model for studying emotional dysregulation to evaluate consequences of genotype specific disruption of 5-HTT function and repeated social defeat for fear-related behaviors and corresponding neurophysiological activities in the lateral amygdala (LA) and infralimbic region of the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) in male 5-HTT wild-type (+/+), homo- (-/-) and heterozygous (+/-) mice. Naive males and experienced losers (generated in a resident-intruder paradigm) of all three genotypes, unilaterally equipped with recording electrodes in LA and mPFC, underwent a Pavlovian fear conditioning. Fear memory and extinction of conditioned fear was examined while recording neuronal activity simultaneously with fear-related behavior. Compared to naive 5-HTT+/+ and +/- mice, 5-HTT-/- mice showed impaired recall of extinction. In addition, 5-HTT-/- and +/- experienced losers showed delayed extinction learning and impaired recall of extinction. Impaired behavioral responses were accompanied by increased theta synchronization between the LA and mPFC during extinction learning in 5-HTT-/- and +/- losers. Furthermore, impaired extinction recall was accompanied with increased theta synchronization in 5-HTT-/- naive and in 5-HTT-/- and +/- loser mice. In conclusion, extinction learning and memory of conditioned fear can be modulated by both the 5-HTT gene activity and social experiences in adulthood, accompanied by corresponding alterations of the theta activity in the amygdala-prefrontal cortex network.

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