Date of this Version



Basolateral amygdala, Context fear conditioning, Extinction, Memory, Updating



Context fear memory can be reliably reduced by subsequent pairings of that context with a weaker shock. This procedure shares similarities with extinction learning: both involve extended time in the conditioning chamber following training and reduce context-elicited fear. Unlike extinction, this weak-shock exposure has been hypothesized to engage reconsolidation-like processes that weaken the original memory.


We directly compared the weak-shock procedure with extinction using male and female Long Evans rats.


Both repeated weak-shock exposure and extinction resulted in decreased context freezing relative to animals that received context fear conditioning but no subsequent context exposure. Conditioning with the weak shock was not enough to form a persistent context-shock association on its own, suggesting that the weak-shock procedure does not create a new memory. Weak-shock exposure in a new context can still reduce freezing elicited by the training context, suggesting that it reduces responding through a different process than extinction, which does not transcend context. Finally, reduced fear behavior produced through both extinction and weak-shock exposure was mirrored by reduced zif268 expression in the basolateral amygdala. However, only the weak-shock procedure resulted in changes in lysine-48 polyubiquitin tagging in the synapse of the basolateral amygdala, suggesting that this procedure produced long-lasting changes in synaptic function within the basolateral amygdala.


These results suggest that the weak-shock procedure does not rely on the creation of a new inhibitory memory, as in extinction, and instead may alter the original representation of the shock to reduce fear responding.


This is the accepted version of the Bonanno GR, Met Hoxha E, Robinson PK, Ferrara NC, Trask S. Fear Reduced Through Unconditional Stimulus Deflation Is Behaviorally Distinct From Extinction and Differentially Engages the Amygdala. Biol Psychiatry Glob Open Sci. 2023 Jan 13;3(4):756-765. doi: 10.1016/j.bpsgos.2023.01.001.