Prior exposure to a single stress session facilitates subsequent contextual fear conditioning in rats. Evidence for a role of corticosterone

Previous studies showed that exposure of rats to chronic restraint stress for 21 days enhances subsequent contextual fear conditioning. Since recent evidence suggest that this effect is not dependent on stress-induced neurodegenerative processes, but to elevated training-elicited glucocorticoid release in chronically stressed animals, we aimed to explore here whether a single exposure to restraint stress, which is not expected to induce neuronal damage, would also affect contextual fear conditioning. We also questioned whether post-training corticosterone levels might be associated with any potential effect of stress on fear conditioning. Adult male Wistar rats were exposed to acute restraint stress for 2 h and, two days later, trained in the contextual fear conditioning task, under training conditions involving either moderate (0.4 mA shock) or high (1 mA shock) stress levels. The results showed that acute stress enhanced conditioned freezing at both training conditions, although data from the 1 mA shock intensity experiment only approached significance. Stressed animals were shown to display higher post-training corticosterone levels. Furthermore, the facilitating effect of prior stress was not evident when animals were trained in the hippocampal-independent auditory-cued conditioning task. Therefore, these findings support the idea that stress experiences preceding exposure to new types of stressors facilitate the development of contextual fear conditioning. They also indicate that not only repeated, but also a single exposure to aversive stimulation is sufficient to facilitate context-dependent fear conditioning, and suggest that increased glucocorticoid release at training might be implicated in the mechanisms mediating the memory facilitating effects induced by prior stress experiences.

Published in:
Horm Behav, 44, 4, 338-45
Author address: Department of Psychobiology, Universidad Nacional de Educacion a Distancia, Ciudad Universitaria s/n, 28040 Madrid, Spain.

 Record created 2007-01-18, last modified 2018-03-17

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