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Behav Processes. 2012 May;90(1):49-57. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2012.03.008. Epub 2012 Mar 23.

A parametric analysis of factors affecting acquisition and extinction of contextual fear in C57BL/6 and DBA/2 mice.

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Department of Behavioral Neuroscience, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, OR 97239, USA.


Behavioral analyses of genetically modified and inbred strains of mice have revealed neural systems and molecules that are involved in memory formation. Many of these studies have examined memories that form in contextual fear conditioning, in which an organism learns that a particular context signals the occurrence of a footshock. During fear extinction, nonreinforced exposure to the context results in the loss of the conditioned fear response. The study of extinction has been instrumental for behavioral and molecular theories of memory. However, many of the transgenic, knockout, and inbred strains of mice that have been widely studied in memory have behavioral deficits in contextual fear conditioning, which makes the study of extinction in these mice particularly challenging. Here we explore several strategies for studying extinction in C57BL/6 and DBA/2 mice, two strains known to differ in contextual fear conditioning. First, we attempt to equate performance prior to extinction through several extensive conditioning protocols. Second, we examine extinction in subsets of mice matched for initial levels of context conditioning. Third, we examine within-strain effects of variables known to affect extinction. Differences between the strains persisted across extensive conditioning and extinction protocols, but both strains were sensitive to session duration and context manipulations during extinction. We describe the implications of our results for behavioral and neurobiological approaches to extinction, and we examine the general challenges in studying extinction in subjects that differ in learning or performance prior to extinction.

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