• auditory cortex;
  • awake;
  • evoked potentials;
  • in vivo;
  • medial geniculate


Long-term memory underlying Pavlovian fear conditioning is believed to involve plasticity at sensory input synapses in the lateral nucleus of the amygdala (LA). A useful physiological model for studying synaptic plasticity is long-term potentiation (LTP). LTP in the LA has been studied only in vitro or in anaesthetized rats. Here, we tested whether LTP can be induced in auditory input pathways to the LA in awake rats, and if so, whether it persists over days. In chronically implanted rats, extracellular field potentials evoked in the LA by stimulation of the auditory thalamus and the auditory association cortex, using test simulations and input/output (I/O) curves, were compared in the same animals after tetanization of either pathway alone or after combined tetanization. For both pathways, LTP was input-specific and long lasting. LTP at cortical inputs exhibited the largest change at early time points (24 h) but faded within 3 days. In contrast, LTP at thalamic inputs, though smaller initially than cortical LTP, remained stable until at least 6 days. Comparisons of I/O curves indicated that the two pathways may rely on different mechanisms for the maintenance of LTP and may benefit differently from their coactivation. This is the first report of LTP at sensory inputs to the LA in awake animals. The results reveal important characteristics of synaptic plasticity in neuronal circuits of fear memory that could not have been revealed with in vitro preparations, and suggest a differential role of thalamic and cortical auditory afferents in long-term memory of fear conditioning.