Assessment of conditioned fear extinction in male and female adolescent rats

Christina J. Perry, Despina E. Ganella, Ly Dao Nguyen, Xin Du, Katherine D. Drummond, Sarah Whittle, Terence Y. Pang, Jee Hyun Kim*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Pavlovian fear conditioning and extinction have been widely studied across many species to understand emotional learning and memory. Importantly, it is becoming clear that these processes are affected by sex and age. In adult rodents and humans, sex differences are evident in extinction, with estradiol playing a significant role. In adolescence, an extinction deficit has been reported in rodents and humans. However, the influence of sex on extinction during adolescence is unknown. This is surprising, since adolescence coincides with the onset of hormone cycling, and therefore it might be expected that hormones fluctuations exert a more profound effect at this time. Therefore, we examined Pavlovian fear conditioning and extinction in adolescent male and female rats. In experiment 1, 35-day-old male and female rats were exposed to 6 pairings of a conditioned stimulus (CS, a tone) with an aversive unconditioned stimulus (US, a footshock). The next day they were extinguished in a contextually distinct chamber, via 60 presentations of the CS without the US. Extinction recall was tested 24 hours later in the extinction context. Estrous phase was monitored by cytology on vaginal smears taken 1 hour after each behavioral session. In experiment 2, male and female rats were given sham surgery or gonadectomy at 21 days of age. They were then trained and tested as for experiment 1. We observed that females in proestrus or met/diestrus during extinction showed delayed extinction and impaired extinction recall the next day compared to males. Ovariectomy enhanced extinction for female rats, but orchidectomy delayed extinction for males. Plasma analyses showed that met/di/proestrus phases were associated with high estradiol levels. These findings suggest that high plasma estradiol levels impair extinction for adolescent females. These results contradict what is reported in adult animals, suggesting that hormonal influences on extinction are dependent on age. Given that impaired extinction is widely used as a model to understand resistance to exposure-based therapies, our findings have important implications for understanding mental health treatments in adolescents.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104670
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • freezing
  • extinction
  • adolescence
  • sex difference
  • estradiol
  • gonadectomy


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