Background: In auditory fear conditioning, repeated presentation of the tone in the absence of shock leads to extinction of the acquired fear responses. The glutamate N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) is thought to be involved in the extinction of the conditioned fear responses, but its detailed role in initiating and consolidating or maintaining the fear extinction memory is unclear. Here we investigated this issue by using a NMDAR antagonist, MK-801. Methods/Main Findings: The effects of immediate (beginning at 10 min after the conditioning) and delayed (beginning at 24 h after conditioning) extinctions were first compared with the finding that delayed extinction caused a better and long-lasting (still significant on the 20th day after extinction) depression on the conditioned fear responses. In a second experiment, MK-801 was intraperitoneally (i.p.) injected at 40 min before, 4 h or 12 h after the delayed extinction, corresponding to critical time points for initiating, consolidating or maintaining the fear extinction memory. i.p. injection of MK-801 at either 40 min before or 4 h after delayed extinction resulted in an impairment of initiating and consolidating fear extinction memory, which caused a long lasting increased freezing score that was still significant on the 7th day after extinction, compared with extinction group. However, MK-801 administered at 12 h after the delayed extinction, when robust consolidation has been occurred and stabilized, did not affect the established extin ction memory. Furthermore, the changed freezing behaviors was not due to an alteration in general anxiety levels, since MK-801 treatment had no effect on the percentage of open-arm time or open-arm entries in an Elevated Plus Maze (EPM) task. Conclusions/Significance: Our data suggested that the activation of NMDARs plays important role in initiation and consolidation but not maintenance of fear extinction memory. Together with the fact that NMDA receptor is very important for memory, our data added experimental evidence to the concept that the extinction of conditioned fear responses is a procedure of initiating and consolidating new memory other than simply "erasing" the fear memory. © 2009 Liu et al.
Liu, J. L., Li, M., Dang, X. R., Wang, Z. H., Rao, Z. R., Wu, S. X., … Wang, W. (2009). A NMDA receptor antagonist, MK-801 impairs consolidating extinction of auditory conditioned fear responses in a Pavlovian model. PLoS ONE, 4(10). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0007548