Stress exposure, depending on its intensity and duration, affects cognition and learning in an adaptive or maladaptive manner. Studies addressing the effects of stress on cognitive processes have mainly focused on conditioned fear, since it is suggested that fear-motivated learning lies at the root of affective and anxiety disorders. Inhibition of fear-motivated response can be accomplished by experimental extinction of the fearful response to the fear-inducing stimulus. Converging evidence indicates that extinction of fear memory requires plasticity in both the medial prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. These brain areas are also deeply involved in mediating the effects of exposure to stress on memory. Moreover, extensive evidence indicates that gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) transmission plays a primary role in the modulation of behavioral sequelae resulting from a stressful experience, and may also partially mediate inhibitory learning during extinction. In this review, we present evidence that exposure to a stressful experience may impair fear extinction and the possible involvement of the GABA system. Impairment of fear extinction learning is particularly important as it may predispose some individuals to the development of posttraumatic stress disorder. We further discuss a possible dysfunction in the medial prefrontal cortex-amygdala circuit following a stressful experience that may explain the impaired extinction caused by exposure to a stressor.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Clinical Neurology