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Behav Brain Res. 2019 Oct 3;371:111980. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2019.111980. Epub 2019 May 27.

Immediate pre-learning stress enhances baseline startle response and fear acquisition in a fear-potentiated startle paradigm.

Author information

1
Department of Psychology, Sociology, & Criminal Justice, Ohio Northern University, Ada, OH, 45810, USA.
2
Department of Pharmaceutical & Biomedical Sciences, Raabe College of Pharmacy, Ohio Northern University, Ada, OH, 45810, USA.
3
Mental Health Service Line, Atlanta VA Medical Center, Decatur, GA, USA; Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA.
4
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA.
5
Department of Psychology, Sociology, & Criminal Justice, Ohio Northern University, Ada, OH, 45810, USA. Electronic address: p-zoladz@onu.edu.

Abstract

Extensive work has shown that stress time-dependently influences hippocampus-dependent learning and memory. In particular, stress that is administered immediately before learning enhances long-term memory, while stress that is temporally separated from learning impairs long-term memory. We have extended these findings by examining the impact of immediate, pre-learning stress on an amygdala-dependent fear conditioning task. One hundred and forty-one healthy participants underwent a stress (socially evaluated cold pressor test) or control manipulation immediately before completing differential fear conditioning in a fear-potentiated startle paradigm. Participants then completed extinction and extinction memory testing sessions 24 and 48 h later, respectively. Stress administered immediately before acquisition increased baseline startle responses and enhanced fear learning, as evidenced by greater fear-potentiated startle to the CS + . Although no group differences were observed during extinction training on Day 2, stressed participants exhibited evidence of impaired extinction processes on Day 3, an effect that was driven by group differences in acquisition. Importantly, stressed participants' cortisol responses to the stressor on Day 1 were positively associated with CS discrimination on Days 2 and 3. These findings suggest that stress immediately before fear conditioning strengthens fear memory formation and produces a more enduring fear memory, perhaps via corticosteroid activity. Such a paradigm could be useful for understanding factors that influence traumatic memory formation.

KEYWORDS:

Cortisol; Extinction; Fear conditioning; Memory; Stress

PMID:
31145979
PMCID:
PMC6681462
[Available on 2020-10-03]
DOI:
10.1016/j.bbr.2019.111980

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