Extinction after fear memory reactivation fails to eliminate renewal in rats.
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Retrieving fear memories just prior to extinction has been reported to effectively erase fear memories and prevent fear relapse. The current study examined whether the type of retrieval procedure influences the ability of extinction to impair fear renewal, a form of relapse in which responding to a conditional stimulus (CS) returns outside of the extinction context. Rats first underwent Pavlovian fear conditioning with an auditory CS and footshock unconditional stimulus (US); freezing behavior served as the index of conditioned fear. Twenty-four hours later, the rats underwent a retrieval-extinction procedure. Specifically, 1h prior to extinction (45 CS-alone trials; 44 for rats receiving a CS reminder), fear memory was retrieved by either a single exposure to the CS alone, the US alone, a CS paired with the US, or exposure to the conditioning context itself. Over the next few days, conditional freezing to the extinguished CS was tested in the extinction and conditioning context in that order (i.e., an ABBA design). In the extinction context, rats that received a CS+US trial before extinction exhibited higher levels of conditional freezing than animals in all other groups, which did not differ from one another. In the renewal context, all groups showed renewal, and none of the reactivation procedures reduced renewal relative to a control group that did not receive a reactivation procedure prior to extinction. These data suggest retrieval-extinction procedures may have limited efficacy in preventing fear renewal.