Hippocampal inactivation disrupts contextual retrieval of fear memory after extinction.
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Recent studies implicate the hippocampus in contextual memory retrieval. The present experiments explore this possibility by examining the impact of reversible inactivation of the dorsal hippocampus (DH) on the context-specific expression of extinction. In experiment 1, rats were conditioned to fear a tone conditional stimulus (CS) and subsequently extinguished either in the same context as conditioning or in a novel context. A third group of rats underwent fear conditioning but did not receive extinction. After extinction, conditional fear to the tone CS was assessed in the conditioning context by measuring freezing. Rats extinguished in the conditioning context exhibited low levels of freezing, whereas those extinguished in a different context and those that received no extinction showed high levels of freezing. This indicates that the expression of extinction is context-specific. In experiment 2, the context-specific expression of extinction was disrupted by infusion of muscimol, a GABA(A) receptor agonist, into the DH. Rats that received muscimol infusions into the DH showed little freezing to the tone CS, regardless of whether the CS had been extinguished in the testing context or another context. In experiment 3, intrahippocampal muscimol infusions did not disrupt the expression of conditional freezing to the tone CS in rats that did not receive extinction. Thus, muscimol infusion into the DH produced a selective impairment in the context-specific expression of extinction. These results extend findings from other behavioral paradigms and provide additional support for a role for the hippocampus in contextual memory retrieval.