Selective early-acquired fear memories undergo temporary suppression during adolescence
Highly conserved neural circuitry between rodents and humans has allowed for in-depth characterization of behavioral and molecular processes associated with emotional learning and memory. Despite increased prevalence of affective disorders in adolescent humans, few studies have characterized how associative-emotional learning changes during the transition through adolescence or identified mechanisms underlying such changes. By examining fear conditioning in mice, as they transitioned into and out of adolescence, we found that a suppression of contextual fear occurs during adolescence. Although contextual fear memories were not expressed during early adolescence, they could be retrieved and expressed as the mice transitioned out of adolescence. This temporary suppression of contextual fear was associated with blunted synaptic activity in the basal amygdala and decreased PI3K and MAPK signaling in the hippocampus. These findings reveal a unique form of brain plasticity in fear learning during early adolescence and may prove informative for understanding endogenous mechanisms to suppress unwanted fear memories.