One-year-old fear memories rapidly activate human fusiform gyrus

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Fast threat detection is crucial for survival. In line with such evolutionary pressure, threat-signaling fear-conditioned faces have been found to rapidly (<80 ms) activate visual brain regions including the fusiform gyrus on the conditioning day. Whether remotely fear conditioned stimuli (CS) evoke similar early processing enhancements is unknown. Here, 16 participants who underwent a differential face fear-conditioning and extinction procedure on day 1 were presented the initial CS 24 h after conditioning (Recent Recall Test) as well as 9-17 months later (Remote Recall Test) while EEG was recorded. Using a data-driven segmentation procedure of CS evoked event-related potentials, five distinct microstates were identified for both the recent and the remote memory test. To probe intracranial activity, EEG activity within each microstate was localized using low resolution electromagnetic tomography analysis (LORETA). In both the recent (41–55 and 150–191 ms) and remote (45–90 ms) recall tests, fear conditioned faces potentiated rapid activation in proximity of fusiform gyrus, even in participants unaware of the contingencies. These findings suggest that rapid processing enhancements of conditioned faces persist over time.

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