Abstract

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) heterozygous knockout mice (BDNF+/− mice) show fear learning deficits from 3 months of age onwards. Here, we addressed the question how this learning deficit correlates with altered long-term potentiation (LTP) in the cortical synaptic input to the lateral amygdala (LA) and at downstream intra-amygdala synapses in BDNF+/- mice. Our results reveal that the fear learning deficit in BDNF+/− mice was not paralleled by a loss of LTP, neither at cortical inputs to the LA nor at downstream intra-amygdala glutamatergic synapses. As we did observe early fear memory (30 min after training) in BDNF+/− mice while long-term memory (24 h post-training) was absent, the stable LTP in cortico-LA and downstream synapses is in line with the intact acquisition of fear memories. Ex vivo recordings in acute slices of fear-conditioned wildtype (WT) mice revealed that fear learning induces long-lasting changes at cortico-LA synapses that occluded generation of LTP 4 and 24 h after training. Overall, our data show that the intact LTP in the tested amygdala circuits is consistent with intact acquisition of fear memories in both WT and BDNF+/− mice. In addition, the lack of learning-induced long-term changes at cortico-LA synapses in BDNF+/− mice parallels the observed deficit in fear memory consolidation.

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