Activity in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex is necessary for the therapeutic effects of extinction in rats

Elizabeth A. Fucich, Denisse Paredes, Madeleine O. Saunders, David A Morilak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Scopus citations


Poor response and high relapse rates remain problematic in the treatment of stress-related psychiatric disorders such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Although mechanisms of pharmacotherapies are intensely studied, little is known about mechanisms of behavioral therapy that could inform improved treatments. We have previously demonstrated the therapeutic effects of extinction learning as a behavioral intervention modeling exposure therapy in rats. In the present study, we tested the hypothesis that activity in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) during extinction is necessary for its therapeutic effects. The inhibitory Gi-coupled designer receptor exclusively activated by designer drug CaMKIIα-hM4Di was expressed invmPFCbefore administering chronic unpredictable stress (CUS).vmPFCprojection neurons were then inhibited during extinction treatment by administering clozapine-N-oxide. Coping behavior and cognitive flexibility were assessed 24 h later on the shock-probe defensive burying test and attentional set-shifting test, respectively. Replicating previous results, extinction reversed the CUS-induced deficits in coping behavior and cognitive flexibility. Inhibiting vmPFC during extinction blocked these therapeutic effects. Further, increasing vmPFC activity with the excitatory Gq-coupled designer receptor exclusively activated by designer drug hM3Dq24 h before testing was sufficient to reverse the CUS-induced deficits. CUS reducedmPFCresponsivity, assessed by measuring afferentevoked field potentials in the mPFC, and this reduction was reversed by extinction treatment 24 h before testing. These results demonstrate the necessity of vmPFC activity in the therapeutic effects of extinction as a model of exposure therapy, and suggest that increased vmPFC activity induced by extinction is sufficient to produce lasting plastic changes that underlie its beneficial effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1408-1417
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number6
StatePublished - Feb 7 2018



  • Behavioral therapy
  • Cognitive flexibility
  • Coping behavior
  • Extinction
  • Medial prefrontal cortex
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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