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Keywords:

  • Amygdala;
  • anxiety;
  • behavior;
  • gene;
  • genetics;
  • incubation;
  • prefrontal cortex;
  • PTSD;
  • rodent;
  • sensitization

Fear extinction is impaired in psychiatric disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia, which have a major genetic component. However, the genetic factors underlying individual variability in fear extinction remain to be determined. By comparing a panel of inbred mouse strains, we recently identified a strain, 129S1/SvImJ (129S1), that exhibits a profound and selective deficit in Pavlovian fear extinction, and associated abnormalities in functional activation of a key prefrontal-amygdala circuit, as compared with C57BL/6J. The first aim of the present study was to assess fear extinction across multiple 129 substrains representing the strain's four different genetic lineages (parental, steel, teratoma and contaminated). Results showed that 129P1/ReJ, 129P3/J, 129T2/SvEmsJ and 129X1/SvJ exhibited poor fear extinction, relative to C57BL/6J, while 129S1 showed evidence of fear incubation. On the basis of these results, the second aim was to further characterize the nature and specificity of the extinction phenotype in 129S1, as an exemplar of the 129 substrains. Results showed that the extinction deficit in 129S1 was neither the result of a failure to habituate to a sensitized fear response nor an artifact of a fear response to (unconditioned) tone per se. A stronger conditioning protocol (i.e. five × higher intensity shocks) produced an increase in fear expression in 129S1, relative to C57BL/6J, due to rapid rise in freezing during tone presentation. Taken together, these data show that impaired fear extinction is a phenotypic feature common across 129 substrains, and provide preliminary evidence that impaired fear extinction in 129S1 may reflect a pro-fear incubation-like process.