Flexibility in the face of fear: hippocampal–prefrontal regulation of fear and avoidance Academic Article uri icon


  • Generating appropriate defensive behaviors in the face of threat is essential to survival. Although many of these behaviors are 'hard-wired', they are also flexible. For example, Pavlovian fear conditioning generates learned defensive responses, such as conditioned freezing, that can be suppressed through extinction. The expression of extinguished responses is highly context-dependent, allowing animals to engage behavioral responses appropriate to the contexts in which threats are encountered. Likewise, animals and humans will avoid noxious outcomes if given the opportunity. In instrumental avoidance learning, for example, animals overcome conditioned defensive responses, including freezing, in order to actively avoid aversive stimuli. Recent work has greatly advanced understanding of the neural basis of these phenomena and has revealed common circuits involved in the regulation of fear. Specifically, the hippocampus and medial prefrontal cortex play pivotal roles in gating fear reactions and instrumental actions, mediated by the amygdala and nucleus accumbens, respectively. Because an inability to adaptively regulate fear and defensive behavior is a central component of many anxiety disorders, the brain circuits that promote flexible responses to threat are of great clinical significance.

altmetric score

  • 18.3

author list (cited authors)

  • Moscarello, J. M., & Maren, S.

citation count

  • 29

publication date

  • October 2017