Neuroimaging of Fear-Associated Learning.
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Fear conditioning has been commonly used as a model of emotional learning in animals and, with the introduction of functional neuroimaging techniques, has proven useful in establishing the neurocircuitry of emotional learning in humans. Studies of fear acquisition suggest that regions such as amygdala, insula, anterior cingulate cortex, and hippocampus play an important role in acquisition of fear, whereas studies of fear extinction suggest that the amygdala is also crucial for safety learning. Extinction retention testing points to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex as an essential region in the recall of the safety trace, and explicit learning of fear and safety associations recruits additional cortical and subcortical regions. Importantly, many of these findings have implications in our understanding of the pathophysiology of psychiatric disease. Recent studies using clinical populations have lent insight into the changes in regional activity in specific disorders, and treatment studies have shown how pharmaceutical and other therapeutic interventions modulate brain activation during emotional learning. Finally, research investigating individual differences in neurotransmitter receptor genotypes has highlighted the contribution of these systems in fear-associated learning.