Think twice, it’s all right: Long lasting effects of disrupted reconsolidation on brain and behavior in human long-term fear
Memories can be modified when recalled. Experimental fear conditioning studies support that amygdala-localized fear memories are attenuated when reconsolidation is disrupted through extinction training immediately following memory activation. Recently, using functional brain imaging in individuals with lifelong spider fears, we demonstrated that fear memory activation followed by repeated exposure to feared cues after 10 min, thereby disrupting reconsolidation, attenuated activity in the amygdala during later re-exposure, and also facilitated approach behavior to feared cues. In contrast, repeated exposure 6 h after fear memory activation, allowing for reconsolidation, did not attenuate amygdala activity and resulted in less approach behavior as compared to the group that received disrupted reconsolidation. We here evaluated if these effects are stable after 6 months and found that amygdala activity was further reduced in both groups, with a tendency towards greater reductions in the 10 min than the 6 h group. Hence, disrupted reconsolidation results in long lasting attenuation of amygdala activity. The behavioral effect, with more approach towards previously feared cues, in the 10 min than the 6 h group also persisted. Thus, the brain effect of disrupted reconsolidation is stable over 6 months and the behavioral effect also remained. We therefore conclude that disrupted reconsolidation result in a long-lasting diminished fear memory representation in the amygdala which may have clinical importance.