A stress-induced shift from trace to delay conditioning depends on the mineralocorticoid receptor
until further notice
Number of pages
SourceBiological Psychiatry, 78, 12, (2015), pp. 830-839
Article / Letter to editor
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Donders Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging
SW OZ DCC CO
PI Group Affective Neuroscience
SW OZ BSI KLP
PI Group Memory and Emotion
Subject130 000 Cognitive Neurology & Memory; Experimental Psychopathology and Treatment; Neuroinformatics; Radboudumc 13: Stress-related disorders DCMN: Donders Center for Medical Neuroscience
BACKGROUND: Fear learning in stressful situations is highly adaptive for survival by steering behavior in subsequent situations, but fear learning can become disproportionate in vulnerable individuals. Despite the potential clinical significance, the mechanism by which stress modulates fear learning is poorly understood. Memory theories state that stress can cause a shift away from more controlled processing depending on the hippocampus toward more reflexive processing supported by the amygdala and striatum. This shift may be mediated by activation of the mineralocorticoid receptor (MR) for cortisol. We investigated how stress shifts processes underlying cognitively demanding learning versus less demanding fear learning using a combined trace and delay fear conditioning paradigm. METHODS: In a pharmacological functional magnetic resonance imaging study, we tested 101 healthy men probing the effects of stress (socially evaluated cold pressor vs. control procedure) and MR-availability (400 mg spironolactone vs. placebo) in a randomized, placebo-controlled, full-factorial, between-subjects design. RESULTS: Effective stress induction and successful conditioning were confirmed by subjective, physiologic, and somatic data. In line with a stress-induced shift, stress enhanced later recall of delay compared with trace conditioning in the MR-available groups as indexed by skin conductance responses. During learning, this was accompanied by a stress-induced reduction of learning-related hippocampal activity for trace conditioning. The stress-induced shift in fear and neural processing was absent in the MR-blocked groups. CONCLUSIONS: Our results are in line with a stress-induced shift in fear learning, mediated by the MR, resulting in a dominance of cognitively less demanding amygdala-based learning, which might be particularly prominent in individuals with high MR sensitivity.
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