Fear extinction is an adaptive behavioral process critical for organism’s survival, but deficiency in extinction may lead to PTSD. While the amygdala and its neural circuits are critical for fear extinction, the molecular identity and organizational logic of cell types that lie at the core of these circuits remain unclear. Here we report that mice deficient for amygdala-enriched gastrin-releasing peptide gene (Grp-/-) exhibit enhanced neuronal activity in the basolateral amygdala (BLA) and stronger fear conditioning, as well as deficient extinction in stress-enhanced fear learning (SEFL). rAAV2-retro-based tracing combined with visualization of the GFP knocked in the Grp gene showed that BLA receives GRPergic or conditioned stimulus projections from the indirect auditory thalamus-to-auditory cortex pathway, ventral hippocampus and ventral tegmental area. Transcription of dopamine-related genes was decreased in BLA of Grp-/- mice following SEFL extinction recall, suggesting that the GRP may mediate fear extinction regulation by dopamine.
Impact statement: Mice deficient for the amygdala-enriched gastrin-releasing peptide gene are susceptible to stress-enhanced fear, a behavioral protocol with relevance to PTSD, and show a decrease in dopamine-related gene transcription.