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Behav Pharmacol. 2013 Feb;24(1):1-9. doi: 10.1097/FBP.0b013e32835cf408.

Impaired conditioned fear response and startle reactivity in epinephrine-deficient mice.

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Departments of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego, CA, USA.


Norepinephrine and epinephrine signaling is thought to facilitate cognitive processes related to emotional events and heightened arousal; however, the specific role of epinephrine in these processes is less known. To investigate the selective impact of epinephrine on arousal and fear-related memory retrieval, mice unable to synthesize epinephrine (phenylethanolamine N-methyltransferase knockout, PNMT-KO) were tested for contextual and cued-fear conditioning. To assess the role of epinephrine in other cognitive and arousal-based behaviors these mice were also tested for acoustic startle, prepulse inhibition, novel object recognition, and open-field activity. Our results show that compared with wild-type mice, PNMT-KO mice showed reduced contextual fear but normal cued fear. Mice exhibited normal memory performance in the short-term version of the novel object recognition task, suggesting that PNMT mice exhibit more selective memory effects on highly emotional and/or long-term memories. Similarly, open-field activity was unaffected by epinephrine deficiency, suggesting that differences in freezing are not related to changes in overall anxiety or exploratory drive. Startle reactivity to acoustic pulses was reduced in PNMT-KO mice, whereas prepulse inhibition was increased. These findings provide further evidence for a selective role of epinephrine in contextual-fear learning and support its potential role in acoustic startle.

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