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Biol Mood Anxiety Disord. 2013 Jul 5;3(1):13. doi: 10.1186/2045-5380-3-13.

Temporal factors in the extinction of fear in inbred mouse strains differing in extinction efficacy.

Author information

Laboratory of Behavioral and Genomic Neuroscience, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, NIH, Bethesda, MD, USA.
Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology, Institute of Pharmacy and CMBI, University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria.
Contributed equally



Various neuropsychiatric conditions, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), are characterized by deficient fear extinction, but individuals differ greatly in risk for these. While there is growing evidence that fear extinction is influenced by certain procedural variables, it is unclear how these influences might vary across individuals and subpopulations. To model individual differences in fear extinction, prior studies identified a strain of inbred mouse, 129S1/SvImJ (S1), which exhibits a profound deficit in fear extinction, as compared to other inbred strains, such as C57BL/6J (B6).


Here, we assessed the effects of procedural variables on the impaired extinction phenotype of the S1 strain and, by comparison, the extinction-intact B6 strain. The variables studied were 1) the interval between conditioning and extinction, 2) the interval between cues during extinction training, 3) single-cue exposure before extinction training, and 4) extinction of a second-order conditioned cue.


Conducting extinction training soon after ('immediately') conditioning attenuated fear retrieval in S1 mice and impaired extinction in B6 mice. Spacing cue presentations with long inter-trial intervals during extinction training augmented fear in S1 and B6 mice. The effect of spacing was lost with one-trial fear conditioning in B6, but not S1 mice. A single exposure to a conditioned cue before extinction training did not alter extinction retrieval, either in B6 or S1 mice. Both the S1 and B6 strains exhibited robust second-order fear conditioning, in which a cue associated with footshock was sufficient to serve as a conditioned exciter to condition a fear association to a second cue. B6 mice extinguished the fear response to the second-order conditioned cue, but S1 mice failed to do so.


These data provide further evidence that fear extinction is strongly influenced by multiple procedural variables and is so in a highly strain-dependent manner. This suggests that the efficacy of extinction-based behavioral interventions, such as exposure therapy, for trauma-related anxiety disorders will be determined by the procedural parameters employed and the degree to which the patient can extinguish.

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