Protein synthesis in the amygdala, but not the auditory thalamus, is required for consolidation of Pavlovian fear conditioning in rats.
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The amygdala is an essential neural substrate for Pavlovian fear conditioning. Nevertheless, long-term synaptic plasticity in amygdaloid afferents, such as the auditory thalamus, may contribute to the formation of fear memories. We therefore compared the influence of protein synthesis inhibition in the amygdala and the auditory thalamus on the consolidation of Pavlovian fear conditioning in Long-Evans rats. Rats received three tone-footshock trials in a novel conditioning chamber. Immediately after fear conditioning, rats were infused intra-cranially with the protein synthesis inhibitor, anisomycin. Conditional fear to the tone and conditioning context was assessed by measuring freezing behaviour in separate retention tests conducted at least 24 h following conditioning. Post-training infusion of anisomycin into the amygdala impaired conditional freezing to both the auditory and contextual stimuli associated with footshock. In contrast, intra-thalamic infusions of anisomycin or a broad-spectrum protein kinase inhibitor [1-(5'-isoquinolinesulphonyl)-2-methylpiperazine, H7] did not affect conditional freezing during the retention tests. Pre-training intra-thalamic infusion of the NMDA receptor antagonist 2-amino-5-phosphonopentanoic acid (APV), which blocks synaptic transmission in the auditory thalamus, produced a selective deficit in the acquisition of auditory fear conditioning. Autoradiographic assays of cerebral [14C]-leucine incorporation revealed similar levels of protein synthesis inhibition in the amygdala and thalamus following intra-cranial anisomycin infusions. These results reveal that the establishment of long-term fear memories requires protein synthesis in the amygdala, but not the thalamus, after auditory fear conditioning. Forms of synaptic plasticity that depend on protein synthesis, such as long-term potentiation, are likely candidates for the encoding and long-term storage of fear memories in the amygdala.