Unilateral storage of fear memories by the amygdala

Hugh T Blair, Virginia K Huynh, Vanessa T Vaz, John Van, Reekesh R Patel, Amit K Hiteshi, Jennie E Lee, Jason W Tarpley
Journal of Neuroscience 2005 April 20, 25 (16): 4198-205
Pavlovian fear conditioning is an associative learning task in which subjects are trained to respond defensively to a neutral conditioned stimulus (CS) by pairing it with an aversive unconditioned stimulus (US). This type of learning depends critically on the amygdala, and evidence suggests that synaptic plasticity within the lateral nucleus of the amygdala (LA) may be responsible for storing memories of the CS-US association. In the present study, we trained rats to fear an auditory CS by pairing it with a shock US delivered to one eyelid. Conditioning was assessed by measuring freezing responses evoked by the CS during a subsequent test session. The amygdala was unilaterally inactivated during either the training or the testing session by intracranial infusions of muscimol into the LA. We found that both acquisition and expression of conditioned freezing to the CS depended on the amygdala contralateral but not ipsilateral from the eyelid where the shock US was delivered. To explain this surprising result, we propose that the shock US is relayed from the eyelid to the amygdala via lateralized nociceptive sensory pathways, which causes memories of the CS-US association to be stored by the amygdala contralateral but not ipsilateral from the shocked eyelid. Our results demonstrate that the fear-learning circuitry of the amygdala is functionally lateralized according to the anatomical source of predicted threats. In future studies, the cellular mechanisms of emotional memory storage might be pinpointed by identifying cellular processes that occur only in the amygdala contralateral but not ipsilateral from the US during lateralized fear conditioning.

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