Lesions of the entorhinal cortex or fornix disrupt the context-dependence of fear extinction in rats
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Recent studies have shown that the hippocampus is critical for the context-dependent expression of extinguished fear memories. Here we used Pavlovian fear conditioning in rats to explore whether the entorhinal cortex and fornix, which are the major cortical and subcortical interfaces of the hippocampus, are also involved in the context-dependence of extinction. After pairing an auditory conditional stimulus (CS) with an aversive footshock (unconditional stimulus or US) in one context, rats received an extinction session in which the CS was presented without the US in another context. Conditional fear to the CS was then tested in either the extinction context or a third familiar context; freezing behavior served as the index of fear. Sham-operated rats exhibited little conditional freezing to the CS in the extinction context, but showed a robust renewal of fear when tested outside of the extinction context. In contrast, rats with neurotoxic lesions in the entorhinal cortex or electrolytic lesions in the fornix did not exhibit a renewal of fear when tested outside the extinction context. Impairments in freezing behavior to the auditory CS were not able to account for the observed results, insofar as rats with either entorhinal cortex or fornix lesions exhibited normal freezing behavior during the conditioning session. Thus, contextual memory retrieval requires not only the hippocampus proper, but also its cortical and subcortical interfaces.
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