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Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2014 Sep;113:69-81. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2013.11.002. Epub 2013 Nov 11.

Prefrontal single-unit firing associated with deficient extinction in mice.

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Laboratory of Behavioral and Genomic Neuroscience, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, NIH, Bethesda, MD, USA. Electronic address:
Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology, Institute of Pharmacy and CMBI, University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria.
Laboratory of Behavioral and Genomic Neuroscience, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, NIH, Bethesda, MD, USA.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, NIH, Bethesda, MD, USA.


The neural circuitry mediating fear extinction has been increasingly well studied and delineated. The rodent infralimbic subregion (IL) of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) has been found to promote extinction, whereas the prelimbic cortex (PL) demonstrates an opposing, pro-fear, function. Studies employing in vivo electrophysiological recordings have observed that while increased IL single-unit firing and bursting predicts robust extinction retrieval, increased PL firing can correlate with sustained fear and poor extinction. These relationships between single-unit firing and extinction do not hold under all experimental conditions, however. In the current study, we further investigated the relationship between vmPFC and PL single-unit firing and extinction using inbred mouse models of intact (C57BL/6J, B6) and deficient (129S1/SvImJ, S1) extinction strains. Simultaneous single-unit recordings were made in the PL and vmPFC (encompassing IL) as B6 and S1 mice performed extinction training and retrieval. Impaired extinction retrieval in S1 mice was associated with elevated PL single-unit firing, as compared to firing in extinguishing B6 mice, consistent with the hypothesized pro-fear contribution of PL. Analysis of local field potentials also revealed significantly higher gamma power in the PL of S1 than B6 mice during extinction training and retrieval. In the vmPFC, impaired extinction in S1 mice was also associated with exaggerated single-unit firing, relative to B6 mice. This is in apparent contradiction to evidence that IL activity promotes extinction, but could reflect a (failed) compensatory effort by the vmPFC to mitigate fear-promoting activity in other regions, such as the PL or amygdala. In support of this hypothesis, augmenting IL activity via direct infusion of the GABAA receptor antagonist picrotoxin rescued impaired extinction retrieval in S1 mice. Chronic fluoxetine treatment produced modest reductions in fear during extinction retrieval and increased the number of Zif268-labeled cells in layer II of IL, but failed to increase vmPFC single-unit firing. Collectively, these findings further support the important contribution these cortical regions play in determining the balance between robust extinction on the one hand, and sustained fear on the other. Elucidating the precise nature of these roles could help inform understanding of the pathophysiology of fear-related anxiety disorders.


129S1/SvImJ; C57BL/6J; Fear extinction; Fluoxetine; Infralimbic cortex; Picrotoxin; Prelimbic cortex; Retrieval

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