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Neurobiology of Learning and Memory

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The ability to predict the occurrence of an aversive outcome based on available cues requires associative learning and plastic changes in the amygdala. When the predictive cue and aversive shock outcome are separated in time as in trace fear conditioning, additional circuitry is needed, including the prelimbic (PL) area of the prefrontal cortex. We have previously shown that neuronal firing in the PL during the trace interval separating the cue and shock is required for trace cued fear memory formation, but whether this mnemonic signal is conveyed to the amygdala is unknown. Here we show in males that silencing PL activity during the trace interval reduces Arc protein in the basolateral amygdala (BLA) of trace-conditioned rats. Then, using pathway-specific optogenetic and chemogenetic silencing, we show a role for direct PL-BLA communication in trace cued fear learning under weak training conditions, but not standard training. These results suggest that PL input to the BLA may serve to promote cued learning when the cue-shock relationship is most ambiguous and that other trace fear circuitry can compensate for the loss of this connection with additional training. This also highlights the challenge to studying how emotional memories are formed and stored within a distributed network and suggests that the function of individual connections within such a network may best be determined using weak training conditions.


Accepted version. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, Vol. 172, (July 2020): 107249. DOI. © 2020 Elsevier. Used with permission.

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