Neurotoxic basolateral amygdala lesions impair learning and memory but not the performance of conditional fear in rats.
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We examined the influence of extensive overtraining (75 trials) on the impact of neurotoxic basolateral amygdala (BLA) lesions on Pavlovian fear conditioning in rats. As we have shown previously, pretraining BLA lesions yielded severe deficits in the acquisition of conditional freezing in rats trained with either 1 or 25 conditioning trials. However, extensive overtraining (50 or 75 trials) mitigated deficits in conditional freezing. Under these conditions the rats with BLA lesions expressed normal and robust freezing behavior, although they required at least 10 times as much training as control rats to reach this level of performance. The ability of rats with BLA lesions to acquire and express conditional freezing after extensive overtraining was modality-specific; conditional freezing in individual rats was acquired to contextual, but not acoustic, conditional stimuli. These results suggest that neural circuitry outside of the amygdala can mediate contextual fear conditioning under some conditions. In contrast to pretraining lesions, post-training BLA lesions eradicated the memory for Pavlovian fear in rats trained with either 1 or 75 trials; this deficit was not modality-specific. Together, these results reveal that impairments in the acquisition and expression of conditional fear in rats with BLA lesions are not attributable to deficits in the performance of the freezing response but are attributable to disruptions in the learning and memory of Pavlovian fear conditioning.