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Keywords:

  • alcohol;
  • amygdala;
  • anxiety;
  • conditioned emotional response;
  • kindling;
  • rat;
  • withdrawal

Abstract

Repeated withdrawal from ethanol impairs acquisition of conditioned fear [Stephens, D.N., Brown, G., Duka, T. & Ripley, T.L. (2001) Eur. J. Neurosci., 14, 2023–2031]. This study further examined the effect of repeated withdrawal from ethanol on the expression and acquisition of fear conditioning. Following training, presentation of a cue associated with footshock (CS+) resulted in a suppression of operant responding for food reinforcement. In different groups, shock thresholds were manipulated to give weak or severe behavioural suppression. Rats were subsequently chronically treated with ethanol-containing liquid diet either continuously (single withdrawal) or with three withdrawal periods (repeated withdrawal). Ethanol treatment and withdrawal had no effect on conditioned suppression of responding tested 2 weeks after the final withdrawal, at either shock intensity. Nevertheless, extinction of conditioned fear was impaired in the repeated withdrawal group exposed to the higher shock intensity. In the high intensity group, the stimulus–shock association was then reversed, so that the previously neutral conditioned stimulus (CS–) became the CS+. Acquisition of suppression to the new CS+ was significantly less in the animals previously given repeated experience of withdrawal, confirming our previous finding. Thus, repeated withdrawal from ethanol lead to disruption in the acquisition of fear conditioning but had no effect on retrieval of an association formed prior to the ethanol-withdrawal experiences.