amygdala; fear conditioning; extinction; receptive fields; inhibition; synaptic plasticity; Learning; memory; fear; circuits
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Experience-dependent changes in behavior are mediated by long-term functional modifications in brain circuits. We are interested to understand the underlying mechanisms at the molecular, cellular and circuit level. As a model system we are using classical (Pavlovian) fear conditioning, a simple form of associative learning that depends on the amygdala, a brain area in the temporal lobe. While tremendous progress has been made in identifying the basic mechanisms underlying fear learning, much less is known about the mechanisms preventing inappropriate fear reactions and pathological anxiety. Recent evidence suggests that GABAergic inhibition mediated by local amygdala interneurons may play a key role in controlling amygdala plasticity and inhibition of inappropriate fear reactions.Using a multidisciplinary and integrated experimental approach in mice, we are combining in vitro and in vivo electrophysiological with genetic and behavioral techniques to address the functional properties of identified amygdala inhibitory circuits and their relevance to behavioral learning. The expected results will further our understanding of the cellular basis of learning processes in general. Moreover, elucidating the neural mechanisms constraining or inhibiting amygdala activity should also lead to novel therapeutic strategies for psychiatric disorders involving excessive fear responses such as post-traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders.