Exposure to predator odor influences the relative use of multiple memory systems: role of basolateral amygdala.
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In a dual-solution plus-maze task in which both hippocampus-dependent place learning and dorsolateral striatal-dependent response learning provide an adequate solution, the relative use of multiple memory systems can be influenced by emotional state. Specifically, pre-training peripheral or intra-basolateral (BLA) administration of anxiogenic drugs result in the predominant use of response learning. The present experiments were designed to extend these findings by examining whether exposure to a putatively ethologically valid stressor would also produce a predominant use of response learning. In experiment 1, adult male Long-Evans rats were exposed to either a predator odor (trimethylthiazoline [TMT], a component of fox feces) or distilled water prior to training in a dual-solution water plus maze task. On a probe trial 24h following task acquisition, rats previously exposed to TMT predominantly displayed response learning relative to control animals. In experiment 2, rats trained on a single-solution plus maze task that required the use of response learning displayed enhanced acquisition following pre-training TMT exposure. In experiment 3, rats exposed to TMT or distilled water were trained in the dual-solution task and received post-training intra-BLA injections of the sodium channel blocker bupivacaine (1.0% solution, 0.5 l) or saline. Relative to control animals, rats exposed to TMT predominantly displayed response learning on the probe trial, and this effect was blocked by neural inactivation of the BLA. The findings indicate that (1) the use of dorsal striatal-dependent habit memory produced by emotional arousal generalizes from anxiogenic drug administration to a putatively ecologically valid stressor (i.e. predator odor), and (2) the BLA mediates the modulatory effect of exposure to predator odor on the relative use of multiple memory systems.