Hippocampal regulation of context-dependent neuronal activity in the lateral amygdala.
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Pavlovian fear conditioning is a robust and enduring form of emotional learning that provides an ideal model system for studying contextual regulation of memory retrieval. After extinction the expression of fear conditional responses (CRs) is context-specific: A conditional stimulus (CS) elicits greater conditional responding outside compared with inside the extinction context. Dorsal hippocampal inactivation with muscimol attenuates context-specific CR expression. We have previously shown that CS-elicited spike firing in the lateral nucleus of the amygdala is context-specific after extinction. The present study examines whether dorsal hippocampal inactivation with muscimol disrupts context-specific firing in the lateral amygdala. We conditioned rats to two separate auditory CSs and then extinguished each CS in separate and distinct contexts. Thereafter, single-unit activity and conditional freezing were tested to one CS in both extinction contexts after saline or muscimol infusion into the dorsal hippocampus. After saline infusion, rats froze more to the CS when it was presented outside of its extinction context, but froze equally in both contexts after muscimol infusion. In parallel with the behavior, lateral nucleus neurons exhibited context-dependent firing to extinguished CSs, and hippocampal inactivation disrupted this activity pattern. These data reveal a novel role for the hippocampus in regulating the context-specific firing of lateral amygdala neurons after fear memory extinction.