Pharmacological evidence that a failure to recruit NMDA receptors contributes to impaired fear extinction retention in adolescent rats

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Adolescents, both humans and rodents, exhibit a marked impairment in extinction of fear relative to younger and older groups which could be caused by a failure to efficiently recruit NMDA receptors (NMDARs) in adolescence. It is well-established that systemic administration of NMDAR antagonists (e.g., MK801) before extinction training impairs the retention of extinction in adult and juvenile rodents, but it is unknown whether this is also the case for adolescents. Therefore, in the present study we investigated the effect of pharmacologically manipulating the NMDAR on extinction retention in adolescent rats. When extinction retention is typically impaired (i.e., after one session of extinction training) adolescent male rats given d-cycloserine (a partial NMDAR agonist) showed enhanced extinction retention relative to saline-treated animals while animals given MK801 (a non-competitive antagonist) did not exhibit any further impairment of extinction retention relative to the controls. In a further two experiments we demonstrated that when two sessions of extinction training separated by either 4 or 24 h intervals were given to adolescent rats, saline-treated animals exhibited good extinction retention and the animals given MK801 before the second session exhibited impaired extinction retention. These findings suggest that extinction in adolescence does not initially involve NMDARs and this is a likely mechanism that contributes to the impaired fear inhibition observed at this age. However, NMDARs appear to be recruited with extended extinction training or after administration of a partial agonist, both of which lead to effective extinction retention.

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