ApoE isoform-dependent deficits in extinction of contextual fear conditioning


Corresponding author: J. Raber, PhD, Oregon Health and Science University, 3181 SW Sam Jackson Pkwy, Mail Code L470, Portland, OR 97239, USA. E-mail: raberj@ohsu.edu


The three major human apoE isoforms (apoE2, apoE3 and apoE4) are encoded by distinct alleles (ϵ2, ϵ3 and ϵ4). Compared with ϵ3, ϵ4 is associated with increased risk to develop Alzheimer's disease (AD), cognitive impairments in Parkinson's disease (PD), and other conditions. In contrast, a recent study indicated an increased susceptibility to the recurring and re-experiencing symptom cluster of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as well as related memory impairments, in patients carrying at least one ϵ2 allele. Contextual fear conditioning and extinction are used in human and animal models to study this symptom cluster. In this study, acquisition (day 1, training), consolidation (day 2, first day of re-exposure) and extinction (days 2–5) of conditioned contextual fear in human apoE2, apoE3 and apoE4 targeted replacement and C57BL/6J wild-type (WT) mice was investigated. Male and female apoE2 showed acquisition and retrieval of conditioned fear, but failed to exhibit extinction. In contrast, WT, apoE3 and apoE4 mice showed extinction. While apoE2 mice exhibited lower freezing in response to the context on day 2 than apoE3 and apoE4 mice, this cannot explain their extinction deficit as WT mice exhibited similar freezing levels as apoE2 mice on day 2 but still exhibited extinction. Elevating freezing through extended training preserved extinction in controls, but failed to ameliorate extinction deficits in apoE2 animals. These data along with clinical data showing an association of apoE2 with susceptibility to specific symptom clusters in PTSD supports an important role for apoE isoform in the extinction of conditioned fear.