A role for midline and intralaminar thalamus in the associative blocking of Pavlovian fear conditioning

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Abstract

Fear learning occurs in response to positive prediction error, when the expected outcome of a conditioning trial exceeds that predicted by the conditioned stimuli present. This role for error in Pavlovian association formation is best exemplified by the phenomenon of associative blocking, whereby prior fear conditioning of conditioned stimulus (CS) A is able to prevent learning to CSB when they are conditioned in compound. The midline and intralaminar thalamic nuclei (MIT) are well-placed to contribute to fear prediction error because they receive extensive projections from the midbrain periaqueductal gray-which has a key role in fear prediction error-and project extensively to prefrontal cortex and amygdala. Here we used an associative blocking design to study the role of MIT in fear learning. In Stage I rats were trained to fear CSA via pairings with shock. In Stage II rats received compound fear conditioning of CSAB paired with shock. On test, rats that received Stage I training expressed less fear to CSB relative to control rats that did not receive this training. Microinjection of bupivacaine into MIT prior to Stage II training had no effect on the expression of fear during Stage II and had no effect on fear learning in controls, but prevented associative blocking and so enabled fear learning to CSB. These results show an important role for MIT in predictive fear learning and are discussed with reference to previous findings implicating the midline and posterior intralaminar thalamus in fear learning and fear responding. © 2014 Sengupta and McNally.

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Sengupta, A., & McNally, G. P. (2014). A role for midline and intralaminar thalamus in the associative blocking of Pavlovian fear conditioning. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 8(MAY). https://doi.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2014.00148

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