Posterior insular cortex is necessary for conditioned inhibition of fear

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Veridical detection of safety versus danger is critical to survival. Learned signals for safety inhibit fear, and so when presented, reduce fear responses produced by danger signals. This phenomenon is termed conditioned inhibition of fear. Here, we report that CS+/CS− fear discrimination conditioning over 5 days in rats leads the CS− to become a conditioned inhibitor of fear, as measured by the classic tests of conditioned inhibition: summation and retardation of subsequent fear acquisition. We then show that NMDA-receptor antagonist AP5 injected to posterior insular cortex (IC) before training completely prevented the acquisition of a conditioned fear inhibitor, while intra-AP5 to anterior and medial IC had no effect. To determine if the IC contributes to the recall of learned fear inhibition, injections of the GABAA agonist muscimol were made to posterior IC before a summation test. This resulted in fear inhibition per se, which obscured inference to the effect of IC inactivation with recall of the safety cue. Control experiments sought to determine if the role of the IC in conditioned inhibition learning could be reduced to simpler fear discrimination function, but fear discrimination and recall were unaffected by AP5 or muscimol, respectively, in the posterior IC. These data implicate a role of posterior IC in the learning of conditioned fear inhibitors.

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