The lateral nucleus of the amygdala is critical for fear conditioning, a paradigm of emotional learning, which requires recognition of an unconditioned stimulus as aversive and association of conditioned stimuli with an unconditioned stimulus. Some patients with temporal lobe epilepsy have amygdaloid damage associated with impaired emotional learning. Fear conditioning also is impaired at least in some animal models of epilepsy. We studied whether contextual or tone-cued fear conditioning is impaired in two status epilepticus models of epilepsy and whether impairment correlates with the extent of damage in the lateral nucleus of the amygdala.Methods
We induced epilepsy in rats by either systemic kainic acid administration or electrical amygdala stimulation. Behavioral reactions in all phases of fear conditioning were analyzed from videotapes. Damage to the lateral nucleus of the amygdala was analyzed from thionin-stained sections both histologically and by volumetry.Results
Immediate reflexive responses to unconditioned and conditioned stimuli were preserved, whereas the freezing response to an unconditioned stimulus was reduced. Contextual conditioning was severely impaired, whereas tone-cued conditioning was better preserved. The lateral nucleus pathology did not correlate with impaired fear conditioning.Conclusions
These data suggest that processing of complex contextual stimuli is severely affected in experimental epilepsy, whereas conditioning to simple cues is better preserved.