Synaptic competition in the lateral amygdala and the stimulus specificity of conditioned fear: a biophysical modeling study

D. Kim, P. Samarth, F. Feng, D. Pare, Satish S. Nair

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Competitive synaptic interactions between principal neurons (PNs) with differing intrinsic excitability were recently shown to determine which dorsal lateral amygdala (LAd) neurons are recruited into a fear memory trace. Here, we explored the contribution of these competitive interactions in determining the stimulus specificity of conditioned fear associations. To this end, we used a realistic biophysical computational model of LAd that included multi-compartment conductance-based models of 800 PNs and 200 interneurons. To reproduce the continuum of spike frequency adaptation displayed by PNs, the model included three subtypes of PNs with high, intermediate, and low spike frequency adaptation. In addition, the model network integrated spatially differentiated patterns of excitatory and inhibitory connections within LA, dopaminergic and noradrenergic inputs, extrinsic thalamic and cortical tone afferents to simulate conditioned stimuli as well as shock inputs for the unconditioned stimulus. Last, glutamatergic synapses in the model could undergo activity-dependent plasticity. Our results suggest that plasticity at both excitatory (PN–PN) and di-synaptic inhibitory (PN–ITN and, particularly, ITN–PN) connections are major determinants of the synaptic competition governing the assignment of PNs to the memory trace. The model also revealed that training-induced potentiation of PN–PN synapses promotes, whereas that of ITN–PN synapses opposes, stimulus generalization. Indeed, suppressing plasticity of PN–PN synapses increased, whereas preventing plasticity of interneuronal synapses decreased the CS specificity of PN recruitment. Overall, our results indicate that the plasticity configuration imprinted in the network by synaptic competition ensures memory specificity. Given that anxiety disorders are characterized by tendency to generalize learned fear to safe stimuli or situations, understanding how plasticity of intrinsic LAd synapses regulates the specificity of learned fear is an important challenge for future experimental studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2163-2182
Number of pages20
JournalBrain Structure and Function
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Anatomy
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Histology


  • Amygdala
  • Competition
  • Hebbian learning
  • Memory
  • Specificity

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