Fear Erasure in Mice Requires Synergy Between Antidepressant Drugs and Extinction Training

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Abstract

Antidepressant drugs and psychotherapy combined are more effective in treating mood disorders than either treatment alone, but the neurobiological basis of this interaction is unknown. To investigate how antidepressants influence the response of mood-related systems to behavioral experience, we used a fear-conditioning and extinction paradigm in mice. Combining extinction training with chronic fluoxetine, but neither treatment alone, induced an enduring loss of conditioned fear memory in adult animals. Fluoxetine treatment increased synaptic plasticity, converted the fear memory circuitry to a more immature state, and acted through local brain-derived neurotrophic factor. Fluoxetine-induced plasticity may allow fear erasure by extinction-guided remodeling of the memory circuitry. Thus, the pharmacological effects of antidepressants need to be combined with psychological rehabilitation to reorganize networks rendered more plastic by the drug treatment.

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