Enhanced discriminative aversive learning and amygdala responsivity in 5-HT transporter mutant mice.
Lima J., Sharp T., Bannerman DM., McHugh SB.
Genetic variation in the human serotonin transporter (5-HTT) has been linked to altered fear learning but the data are inconsistent and the mechanism is unclear. The present study investigated conditioned aversive learning in 5-HTT knockout (KO) mice while simultaneously recording neural network activity (theta oscillations) and hemodynamic responses (tissue oxygen delivery) from the amygdala, a brain region necessary for forming fearful memories. Conditioned aversive learning was measured using a discrimination learning task in which one auditory cue was paired with foot-shock, whereas a second auditory cue was not. Compared with wild-type mice, 5-HTTKO mice exhibited faster discrimination learning. This effect was associated with stronger theta frequency oscillations and greater hemodynamic changes in the amygdala in response to both the emotionally relevant cues and the unconditioned foot-shock stimulus. Furthermore, hemodynamic responses to the unconditioned stimulus predicted behavioral discrimination performance the following day. Acute pharmacological 5-HTT blockade in wild-type mice produced a similar effect, to the extent that administration of citalopram during the fear conditioning sessions enhanced fear memory recall. Collectively, our data argue that loss of 5-HTT function enhances amygdala responsivity to aversive events and facilitates learning for emotionally relevant cues.