Methylene blue facilitates the extinction of fear in an animal model of susceptibility to learned helplessness.

Department of Psychology and Institute for Neuroscience, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712, USA.
Neurobiology of Learning and Memory (Impact Factor: 4.04). 03/2007; 87(2):209-17. DOI: 10.1016/j.nlm.2006.08.009
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT The objectives were to (1) extend previous findings on fear extinction deficits in male congenitally helpless rats (a model for susceptibility to learned helplessness) to female congenitally helpless rats, and (2) attempt a therapeutic intervention with methylene blue, a metabolic enhancer that improves memory retention, to alleviate the predicted extinction deficits. In the first experiment, fear acquisition (four tone-shock pairings in operant chamber) was followed by extinction training (60 tones in open field). Congenitally helpless rats showed fear acquisition similar to controls but had dramatic extinction deficits, and did not display the gradual extinction curves observed in controls. Congenitally helpless rats demonstrated greater tone-evoked freezing as compared to controls in both the acquisition and extinction contexts one week after extinction training, and also in the extinction probe conducted one month later. In the second experiment (which began one month after the first experiment) congenitally helpless subjects were further exposed to tones for 5 days, each followed by 4 mg/kg methylene blue or saline IP, and had a fear renewal test in the acquisition context. Methylene blue administration improved retention of the extinction memory as demonstrated by significant decreases in fear renewal as compared to saline-administered congenitally helpless subjects. The impaired ability to extinguish fear to a traumatic memory in congenitally helpless rats supports the validity of this strain as an animal model for vulnerability to post-traumatic stress disorder, and this study further suggests that methylene blue may facilitate fear extinction as an adjunct to exposure therapy.

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