The effects of cannabinoids on contextual conditioned fear in CB1 knockout and CD1 mice

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We studied the effects of cannabinoids on contextual conditioned fear responses. CB1 knockout and wild-type (CD1) mice were exposed to a brief session of electric shocks, and their behavior was studied in the same context 24 h later. In wild-type mice, shock exposure increased freezing and resting, and decreased locomotion and exploration. The genetic disruption of the CB1 receptor abolished the conditioned fear response. The CB1 antagonist AM-251 reduced the peak of the conditioned fear response when applied 30 min before behavioral testing (i.e. 24 h after shocks) in CD1 (wild-type) mice. The cannabinoid agonist WIN-55,212-2 markedly increased the conditioned fear response in CD1 mice, the effect of which was potently antagonized by AM-251. Thus, cannabinoid receptor activation appears to strongly promote the expression of contextual conditioned fear. In earlier experiments, cannabinoids did not interfere with the expression of cue-induced conditioned fear but strongly promoted its extinction. Considering the primordial role of the amygdala in simple associative learning (e.g. in cue-induced fear) and the role of the hippocampus in learning more complex stimulus relationships (e.g. in contextual fear), the present and earlier findings are not necessarily contradictory, but suggest that cannabinoid signaling plays different roles in the two structures. Data are interpreted in terms of the potential involvement of cannabinoids in trauma-induced behavioral changes.

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