Although aversive memory has been mainly addressed by analysing the changes occurring in average populations, the study of neuronal mechanisms of outliers allows understanding the involvement of individual differences in fear conditioning and extinction. We recently developed an innovative experimental model of individual differences in approach and avoidance behaviors, classifying the mice as Approaching, Balancing or Avoiding animals according to their responses to conflicting stimuli. The approach and avoidance behaviors appear to be the primary reactions to rewarding and threatening stimuli and may represent predictors of vulnerability (or resilience) to fear. We submitted the three mice phenotypes to Contextual Fear Conditioning. In comparison to Balancing animals, Approaching and Avoiding mice exhibited no middle-or long-term fear extinction. The two non-extinguishing phenotypes exhibited potentiated glutamatergic neurotransmission (spontaneous excitatory postsynaptic currents/spinogenesis) of pyramidal neurons of medial prefrontal cortex and basolateral amygdala. Basing on the a priori individuation of outliers, we demonstrated that the maintenance of aversive memories is linked to increased spinogenesis and excitatory signaling in the amygdala-prefrontal cortex fear matrix.
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