Co-activation of NR2A and NR2B subunits induces resistance to fear extinction

Katherine Leaderbrand, Kevin A. Corcoran, Jelena Radulovic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Unpredictable stress is known to profoundly enhance susceptibility to fear and anxiety while reducing the ability to extinguish fear when threat is no longer present. Accordingly, partial aversive reinforcement, via random exposure to footshocks, induces fear that is resistant to extinction. Here we sought to determine the hippocampal mechanisms underlying susceptibility versus resistance to context fear extinction as a result of continuous (CR) and partial (PR) reinforcement, respectively. We focused on N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) subunits 2A and B (NR2A and NR2B) as well as their downstream signaling effector, extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK), based on their critical role in the acquisition and extinction of fear. Pharmacological inactivation of NR2A, but not NR2B, blocked extinction after CR, whereas inactivation of NR2A, NR2B, or both subunits facilitated extinction after PR. The latter finding suggests that co-activation of NR2A and NR2B contributes to persistent fear following PR. In contrast to CR, PR increased membrane levels of ERK and NR2 subunits after the conditioning and extinction sessions, respectively. In parallel, nuclear activation of ERK was significantly reduced after the extinction session. Thus, co-activation and increased surface expression of NR2A and NR2B, possibly mediated by ERK, may cause persistent fear. These findings suggest that patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may benefit from antagonism of specific NR2 subunits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)35-40
Number of pages6
JournalNeurobiology of Learning and Memory
StatePublished - Sep 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Continuous reinforcement
  • Extracellular signal-regulated kinase
  • Hippocampus
  • Mice
  • Partial reinforcement
  • Surface NMDAR

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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