BACKGROUND Formation of long-term memories is critically dependent on extracellular-regulated kinase (ERK) signaling. Activation of the ERK pathway by the sequential recruitment of mitogen-activated protein kinases is well understood. In contrast, the proteins that inactivate this pathway are not as well characterized. METHODS Here we tested the hypothesis that the brain-specific striatal-enriched protein tyrosine phosphatase (STEP) plays a key role in neuroplasticity and fear memory formation by its ability to regulate ERK1/2 activation. RESULTS STEP co-localizes with the ERKs within neurons of the lateral amygdala. A substrate-trapping STEP protein binds to the ERKs and prevents their nuclear translocation after glutamate stimulation in primary cell cultures. Administration of TAT-STEP into the lateral amygdala (LA) disrupts long-term potentiation (LTP) and selectively disrupts fear memory consolidation. Fear conditioning induces a biphasic activation of ERK1/2 in the LA with an initial activation within 5 minutes of training, a return to baseline levels by 15 minutes, and an increase again at 1 hour. In addition, fear conditioning results in the de novo translation of STEP. Inhibitors of ERK1/2 activation or of protein translation block the synthesis of STEP within the LA after fear conditioning. CONCLUSIONS Together, these data imply a role for STEP in experience-dependent plasticity and suggest that STEP modulates the activation of ERK1/2 during amygdala-dependent memory formation. The regulation of emotional memory by modulating STEP activity may represent a target for the treatment of psychiatric disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic, and anxiety disorders.