Chronic stress typically leads to deficits in fear extinction when tested soon after chronic stress ends. Given the importance of extinction in updating fear memories, the current study examined whether fear extinction was impaired in rats that were chronically stressed and then given a break from the end of chronic stress to the start of fear conditioning and extinction. Male rats were chronically stressed by restraint (6 h/d/21 d) and tested soon (termed immediate, STR-IMM), or 3 or 6 wk after a rest period from restraint (termed rest or “R,” STR-R3, STR-R6). In Experiment 1, STR-R3 and STR-R6 discriminated between the cue and nonshock context better than STR-IMM or control. Interestingly, STR-IMM showed high freezing to the nonshock context. Consequently, Experiment 2 investigated whether STR-IMM generalized across contexts, which was not supported. Experiment 3 determined whether STR-IMM were susceptible to second-order conditioning to a novel context, but showed that the level of second-order conditioning was similar for all groups. These findings reveal that rats exposed to chronic stress and then given a rest period of 3 or 6 wk, express unique fear extinction profiles compared to control and STR-IMM. Specifically, STR-R demonstrated excellent cue and context discrimination during extinction, and perhaps showed a stress inoculation effect. For STR-IMM, the heightened freezing under these extensive acclimation parameters was not attributed to generalization nor to second-order fear conditioning to “safe” contexts and, instead, may reflect hypervigilance.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
- Cognitive Neuroscience
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience