The basolateral amygdala (BLA) complex receives dense cholinergic projections from the nucleus basalis of Meynert (NBM) and the horizontal limb of the diagonal band of Broca (HDB). The present experiments examined whether these projections regulate the formation, extinction, and renewal of fear memories. This was achieved by employing a Pavlovian fear conditioning protocol and optogenetics in transgenic rats. Silencing NBM projections during fear conditioning weakened the fear memory produced by that conditioning and abolished its renewal after extinction. By contrast, silencing HDB projections during fear conditioning had no effect. Silencing NBM or HDB projections during extinction enhanced the loss of fear produced by extinction, but only HDB silencing prevented renewal. Next, we found that systemic blockade of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors during fear conditioning mimicked the effects produced by silencing NBM projections during fear conditioning. However, this blockade had no effect when given during extinction. These findings indicate that basal forebrain cholinergic signaling in the BLA plays a critical role in fear regulation by promoting strength and durability of fear memories. We concluded that cholinergic compounds may improve treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder by durably stripping fear memories from their fear-eliciting capacity.

Basal forebrain cholinergic signaling in the basolateral amygdala promotes strength and durability of fear memories

The basolateral amygdala (BLA) complex receives dense cholinergic projections from the nucleus basalis of Meynert (NBM) and the horizontal limb of the diagonal band of Broca (HDB). The present experiments examined whether these projections regulate the formation, extinction, and renewal of fear memories. This was achieved by employing a Pavlovian fear conditioning protocol and optogenetics in transgenic rats. Silencing NBM projections during fear conditioning weakened the fear memory produced by that conditioning and abolished its renewal after extinction. By contrast, silencing HDB projections during fear conditioning had no effect. Silencing NBM or HDB projections during extinction enhanced the loss of fear produced by extinction, but only HDB silencing prevented renewal. Next, we found that systemic blockade of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors during fear conditioning mimicked the effects produced by silencing NBM projections during fear conditioning. However, this blockade had no effect when given during extinction. These findings indicate that basal forebrain cholinergic signaling in the BLA plays a critical role in fear regulation by promoting strength and durability of fear memories. We concluded that cholinergic compounds may improve treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder by durably stripping fear memories from their fear-eliciting capacity.