Neural substrates for the distinct effects of presynaptic group III metabotropic glutamate receptors on extinction of contextual fear conditioning in mice

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The group III metabotropic glutamate (mGlu) receptors mGlu7 and mGlu8 are receiving increased attention as potential novel therapeutic targets for anxiety disorders. The effects mediated by these receptors appear to result from a complex interplay of facilitatory and inhibitory actions at different brain sites in the anxiety/fear circuits. To better understand the effect of mGlu7 and mGlu8 receptors on extinction of contextual fear and their critical sites of action in the fear networks, we focused on the amygdala. Direct injection into the basolateral complex of the amygdala of the mGlu7 receptor agonist AMN082 facilitated extinction, whereas the mGlu8 receptor agonist (S)-3,4-DCPG sustained freezing during the extinction acquisition trial. We also determined at the ultrastructural level the synaptic distribution of these receptors in the basal nucleus (BA) and intercalated cell clusters (ITCs) of the amygdala. Both areas are thought to exert key roles in fear extinction. We demonstrate that mGlu7 and mGlu8 receptors are located in different presynaptic terminals forming both asymmetric and symmetric synapses, and that they preferentially target neurons expressing mGlu1α receptors mostly located around ITCs. In addition we show that mGlu7 and mGlu8 receptors were segregated to different inputs to a significant extent. In particular, mGlu7a receptors were primarily onto glutamatergic afferents arising from the BA or midline thalamic nuclei, but not the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), as revealed by combined anterograde tracing and pre-embedding electron microscopy. On the other hand, mGlu8a showed a more restricted distribution in the BA and appeared absent from thalamic, mPFC and intrinsic inputs. This segregation of mGlu7 and mGlu8 receptors in different neuronal pathways of the fear circuit might explain the distinct effects on fear extinction training observed with mGlu7 and mGlu8 receptor agonists.

This article is part of a Special Issue entitled ‘Metabotropic Glutamate Receptors’.

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