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Keywords:

  • Amygdala;
  • auditory fear conditioning;
  • chronic stress;
  • mice;
  • NCAM;
  • PSA-NCAM

Chronic stress in rodents was shown to induce structural shrinkage and functional alterations in the hippocampus that were linked to spatial memory impairments. Effects of chronic stress on the amygdala have been linked to a facilitation of fear conditioning. Although the underlying molecular mechanisms are still poorly understood, increasing evidence highlights the neural cell adhesion molecule (NCAM) as an important molecular mediator of stress-induced structural and functional alterations. In this study, we investigated whether altered NCAM expression levels in the amygdala might be related to stress-induced enhancement of auditory fear conditioning and anxiety-like behavior. In adult C57BL/6J wild-type mice, chronic unpredictable stress resulted in an isoform-specific increase of NCAM expression (NCAM-140 and NCAM-180) in the amygdala, as well as enhanced auditory fear conditioning and anxiety-like behavior. Strikingly, forebrain-specific conditional NCAM-deficient mice (NCAM-floxed mice that express the cre-recombinase under the control of the promoter of the α-subunit of the calcium-calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II), whose amygdala NCAM expression levels are reduced, displayed impaired auditory fear conditioning which was not altered following chronic stress exposure. Likewise, chronic stress in these conditional NCAM-deficient mice did not modify NCAM expression levels in the amygdala or hippocampus, while they showed enhanced anxiety-like behavior, questioning the involvement of NCAM in this type of behavior. Together, our results strongly support the involvement of NCAM in the amygdala in the consolidation of auditory fear conditioning and highlight increased NCAM expression in the amygdala among the mechanisms whereby stress facilitates fear conditioning processes.