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Stress. 2012 Nov;15(6):627-36. doi: 10.3109/10253890.2011.650251. Epub 2012 Jan 24.

Stress-enhanced fear learning in rats is resistant to the effects of immediate massed extinction.

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Ernest Gall Clinic and Research Center, University of California San Francisco, Emeryville, CA 94608, USA.


Enhanced fear learning occurs subsequent to traumatic or stressful events and is a persistent challenge to the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Facilitation of learning produced by prior stress can elicit an exaggerated fear response to a minimally aversive event or stimulus. Stress-enhanced fear learning (SEFL) is a rat model of PTSD; rats previously exposed to the SEFL 15 electrical shocks procedure exhibit several behavioral responses similar to those seen in patients with PTSD. However, past reports found that SEFL is not mitigated by extinction (a model of exposure therapy) when the spaced extinction began 24 h after stress. Recent studies found that extinction from 10 min to 1 h subsequent to fear conditioning "erased" learning, whereas later extinction, occurring from 24 to 72 h after conditioning did not. Other studies indicate that massed extinction is more effective than spaced procedures. Therefore, we examined the time-dependent nature of extinction on the stress-induced enhancement of fear learning using a massed trial's procedure. Experimental rats received 15 foot shocks and were given either no extinction or massed extinction 10 min or 72 h later. Our present data indicate that SEFL, following traumatic stress, is resistant to immediate massed extinction. Experimental rats showed exaggerated new fear learning regardless of when extinction training occurred. Thus, post-traumatic reactivity such as SEFL does not seem responsive to extinction treatments.

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