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Keywords:

  • corticosterone;
  • fear conditioning;
  • gender differences;
  • MR mutant mice

Abstract

Previous studies showed that the mineralocorticoid receptor (MR) is needed for behavioral flexibility in a fear conditioning paradigm. Female mice with forebrain-specific deletion of the MR gene (MRCaMKCre) were unable to show extinction of contextual fear, and could not discriminate between cue and context fear unlike control mice. In the present study, male and female (MRCaMKCre) mice and control littermates were used to study sex-specific fear conditioning, memory performance and extinction. The fear conditioning paradigm assessed both context- and cue-related fear within one experimental procedure. We observed that at the end of the conditioning all mice acquired the fear-motivated response. During the first minutes of the memory test, both male and female MRCaMKCre mice remembered and feared the context more than the control mice. Furthermore, female MRCaMKCre mice were not able to extinguish this memory even on the second day of memory testing. The female mutants also could not discriminate between cue (more freezing) and context periods (less freezing). In contrast, male MRCaMKCre mice and the controls showed extinction and were capable to discriminate, although the MRCaMKCre mice needed more time before they started extinction. These findings further support the relevance of MR for behavioral flexibility and extinction of fear-motivated behavior. In conclusion, the loss of MR in the forebrain results in large differences in emotional and cognitive behaviors between female and male mice, which suggests a role of this receptor in the female prevalence of stress- and anxiety-regulated disorders.