Poster E17, Monday, March 26, 2:30-4:30 pm, Exhibit Hall C
Mental context reinstatement may underlie successful retrieval of extinction memories
Augustin C. Hennings1, Jarrod A. Lewis-Peacock1, Joseph E. Dunsmoor1; 1University of Texas at Austin
Extinguishing learned fear involves new learning of extinction memories and successful retrieval of these memories rather than the fear. However, the retrieval of extinction memories tends to be contextually specific (Bouton, M. E., 2004). Fear learning, on the other hand, generalizes to novel contexts, and the overexpression of generalized fear is a hallmark of neurobiological disorders such as PTSD (Maren et al., 2013). Recent models of episodic memory in humans highlight the importance of mental context for the successful encoding and retrieval of memories (Sederberg et al., 2008). Mental context is defined as the running average of recent perceptual and mnemonic experiences. Specific mental contexts can be tagged by injecting trial-irrelevant stimuli during learning and using multivariate pattern analysis (MVPA) of fMRI data to track the reactivation of those stimuli as a proxy for the reinstatement of that context (Gershman et al., 2013). Here, we test the hypothesis that successfully recalling extinction memories following fear conditioning depends on the reinstatement of the mental context in which extinction occurred. Twenty-four hours after Pavlovian fear conditioning and extinction, participants were tested for extinction recall. MVPA readouts of mental context during successful extinction recall showed significant reinstatement of the mental context corresponding to extinction learning from the previous day. These results suggest that, in humans, extinguishing learned fear is dependent on the reinstatement of the mental context in which extinction was learned. These results have implications for future PTSD treatment strategies targeting mental context reinstatement as the gateway to enhanced efficacy of extinction.
Topic Area: EMOTION & SOCIAL: Emotion-cognition interactions