Prefrontal cortex long-term potentiation, but not long-term depression, is associated with the maintenance of extinction of learned fear in mice.
We studied changes in thalamo-prefrontal cortical transmission in behaving mice following both low-frequency stimulation of the mediodorsal thalamus (MD) and during extinction of a conditioned fear response. Electrical stimulation of the MD induces a field potential in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) characterized by two initial negative-positive complexes (N1-P1 and N2-P2) followed by two positive-negative complexes (P2-N3 and P3-N4). The N1-P1 and N2-P2 complexes were identified as resulting from orthodromic and antidromic prefrontal activation, respectively. Because the two complexes were not often easily dissociated, plasticity in the prefrontal synaptic transmission was considered to result from changes in N1-P2 amplitude. Low-frequency thalamic stimulation (1, 200 pulses at 2 Hz) produced either long-term (at least 32 min) depression or potentiation of the N1-P2 amplitude. Mice submitted to fear conditioning (tone-shock association), displayed on the first day of extinction (tone-alone presentations) a strong freezing behavior, which decreased progressively, but was still high the following day. Extinction of conditioned fear was accompanied the first day by a depression of prefrontal transmission, which was converted into potentiation the following day. Potentiation of prefrontal transmission lasted at least 24 h following the second day of the fear extinction procedure. In conclusion, low-frequency thalamic stimulation can produce, in behaving mice, either depression or potentiation of prefrontal synaptic transmission. Decrease in prefrontal synaptic transmission observed during the first day of extinction may reflect processing of the high degree of predictiveness of danger (unconditioned stimulus: US) by the aversive conditioned stimulus (CS). However, the subsequent potentiation of transmission in the mPFC may be related to processing of cognitive information such as the CS will no longer be followed by the US, even if emotional response (freezing) to the CS is still high.