The general mechanism underlying memory and learning is an area under intense investigation and debate, yet this mechanism remains elusive. Auditory fear conditioning (when a tone is paired with a foot shock) is a simple associative form of learning for which many mechanistic details are known. Lesions of the lateral/basolateral nuclei of the amygdala result in the selective impairment of fear conditioning, indicating that this is a key region for this type of learning. Fear conditioning induces a lasting synaptic potentiation in the lateral nuclei of the amygdala. In addition, recent results from several laboratories suggest that N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor activation in the amygdala is required for the acquisition and expression of cue-conditioned fear responses using several kinds of antagonists. Little is known, however, about the signal transduction pathway and molecular substrate underlying fear conditioning. Here we use NMDA receptor-deficient mice to demonstrate that calmodulin-dependent kinase II, CaMKIIβ, and CaMKIIα activation involves the NR2A subunit in the lateral/basolateral amygdala during memory retrieval following auditory fear conditioning. These results suggest that auditory fear conditioning involves a close linkage between NMDA2A receptors and the CaMKII cascade.
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