Background: The pharmacology of traumatic memory extinction has not been fully characterized despite its potential as a therapeutic target for established, acquired anxiety disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Here we examine the role of endogenous glucocorticoids in traumatic memory extinction. Methods: Male C57BL/6J mice were injected with corticosterone (10 mg/kg, i.p.) or metyrapone (50 mg/kg, s.c.) during re-activation of a contextual fear memory, and compared to vehicle groups (N= 10-12 per group). To ensure that metyrapone was blocking corticosterone synthesis, we measured corticosterone levels following re-activation of a fear memory in metyrapone- and vehicle-treated animals. Results: Corticosterone administration following extinction trials caused a long-lasting inhibition of the original fear memory trace. In contrast, blockade of corticosteroid synthesis with metyrapone prior to extinction trials enhanced retrieval and prevented extinction of context-dependent fear responses in mice. Further behavioral analysis suggested that the metyrapone enhancement of retrieval and prevention of extinction were not due to non-specific alterations in locomotor or anxiety-like behavior. In addition, the inhibition of extinction by metyrapone was rescued by exogenous administration of corticosterone following extinction trials. Finally, we confirmed that the rise in corticosterone during re-activation of a contextual fear memory was blocked by metyrapone. Conclusions: We demonstrate that extinction of a classical contextual fear memory is dependent on endogenous glucocorticoid synthesis during re-activation of a fear memory. Our data suggest that decreased glucocorticoids during fear memory re-activation may contribute to the inability to extinguish a fear memory, thus contributing to one of the core symptoms of PTSD.
- Fear conditioning
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Cognitive Neuroscience
- Behavioral Neuroscience