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Regulation and inhibition of fear memory across development

This project focuses on the regulation of emotional memory across development, from early childhood to adolescence.

Aims

By characterizing the neural mechanisms involved in the extinction of learned fear behaviors, findings from this project will ultimately help develop targeted interventions to improve treatment outcomes for anxiety in young people.

Childhood represents a unique period of vulnerability to the development of anxious behaviours and anxiety disorders. Sadly, earlier onset is also associated with more severe symptoms and increased resistance to treatment.

This project models pathological learning during childhood and adolescence using a Pavlovian fear conditioning paradigm, with the aim of characterizing brain changes associated with inhibition of these learned behaviors.

Currently, treatments for anxiety disorders involve cognitive-behavioural therapies that rely on this process of behavioural inhibition, defined as extinction.

Extinction is the decrease in fear responses expressed to a fearful stimulus due to the repeated exposure to the stimulus without any aversive outcome.

We have accumulated powerful evidence that extinction is actually memory erasure in juvenile rats, whereas extinction is new learning in adult rats.

Key references:

  • Ganella DE & Kim JH (2014). Developmental rodent models of fear and anxiety: From neurobiology to pharmacology. British Journal of Pharmacology, 171: 4556-4574.
  • Kim JH & Richardson R (2010). New findings on extinction of conditioned fear early in development: Theoretical and clinical implications. Biological Psychiatry, 67: 297-303.

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