Alterations in fear conditioning and amygdalar activation following chronic wheel running in rats.

Department of Pharmacology, Physiology and Neuroscience, University of South Carolina School of Medicine, Columbia, SC 29208, USA.
Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior (Impact Factor: 2.82). 07/2006; 84(2):306-12. DOI: 10.1016/j.pbb.2006.05.015
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Several convergent lines of evidence point to the amygdala as a key site of plasticity underlying most forms of fear conditioning. Studies have shown that chronic physical activity, such as wheel running, can alter learning in a variety of contexts, including aversive conditioning. The ability of chronic wheel running (WR) to alter both behavioral correlates of fear conditioning and indices of amygdalar activation, however, has not been simultaneously assessed. Here, rats were given constant access to either free-turning or--as a control--locked (LC) running wheels in their home cages. After 8 weeks of housing under these conditions, animals were exposed to a series of shocks in a separate testing chamber. Twenty-four hours later, the animals were returned to the shock chamber and freezing behavior was measured as an indicator of contextual fear conditioning. The animals were then sacrificed and their brains processed for immunohistochemical detection of Fos to assess patterns of putative neuronal activation. WR rats spent significantly more time freezing than their LC counterparts upon return to the shock-paired context. The enhanced conditioned freezing response was most pronounced in animals showing high levels of nightly wheel running activity. WR animals also had significantly higher levels of neuronal activation, as indicated by Fos expression in the central nucleus of the amygdala, but less activation in the basolateral nucleus, compared to sedentary controls. These data demonstrate the ability of chronic physical activity to alter contextual fear conditioning and implicate the amygdala as a potential site of plasticity underlying this phenomenon.

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