Early extinction after fear conditioning yields a context-independent and short-term suppression of conditional freezing in rats
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Extinction of Pavlovian fear conditioning in rats is a useful model for therapeutic interventions in humans with anxiety disorders. Recently, we found that delivering extinction trials soon (15 min) after fear conditioning yields a short-term suppression of fear, but little long-term extinction. Here, we explored the possible mechanisms underlying this deficit by assessing the suppression of fear to a CS immediately after extinction training (Experiment 1) and the context specificity of fear after both immediate and delayed extinction training (Experiment 2). We also examined the time course of the immediate extinction deficit (Experiment 3). Our results indicate that immediate extinction produces a short-lived and context-independent suppression of conditional freezing. Deficits in long-term extinction were apparent even when the extinction trials were given up to 6 h after conditioning. Moreover, this deficit was not due to different retention intervals that might have influenced the degree of spontaneous recovery after immediate and delayed extinction (Experiment 4). These results suggest that fear suppression under immediate extinction may be due to a short-term, context-independent habituation process, rather than extinction per se. Long-term extinction memory only develops when extinction training occurs at least six hours after conditioning.
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