Event boundaries do not cause the immediate extinction deficit after Pavlovian fear conditioning in rats
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Recent work reveals that the extinction of conditioned fear depends upon the interval between conditioning and extinction. Extinction training that takes place within minutes to hours after fear conditioning fails to produce a long-term extinction memory, a phenomenon known as the immediate extinction deficit (IED). Neurobiological evidence suggests that the IED results from stress-induced dysregulation of prefrontal cortical circuits involved in extinction learning. However, a recent study in humans suggests that an "event boundary" between fear conditioning and extinction protects the conditioning memory from interference by the extinction memory, resulting in high levels of fear during a retrieval test. Here, we contrast these hypotheses in rats by arranging extinction trials to follow conditioning trials with or without an event boundary; in both cases, extinction trials are delivered in proximity to shock-elicited stress. After fear conditioning, rats either received extinction trials 60-sec after the last conditioning trial (continuous, no event boundary) or 15-minutes after conditioning (segmented, a standard "immediate" extinction procedure associated with an event boundary). Both groups of animals showed decreases in conditional freezing to the auditory conditioned stimulus (CS) during extinction and exhibited an equivalent IED relative to non-extinguished controls when tested 48 hours later. Thus, eliminating the event boundary between conditioning and extinction with the continuous extinction procedure did not prevent the IED. These data suggest that the IED is the result of shock-induced stress, rather than boundary-induced reductions in memory interference.
author list (cited authors)
Totty, M. S., Payne, M. R., & Maren, S.