Mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have emerged as the signature injuries of the U.S. veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and frequently co-occur in both military and civilian and populations. To better understand how fear learning and underlying neural systems might be altered after mTBI we examined the acquisition of cued fear conditioning and its extinction along with brain morphology and dendritic plasticity in a mouse model of mTBI. To induce mTBI in adult male C57BL/6J mice, a lateral fluid percussive injury (LFP 1.7) was produced using a fluid pulse of 1.7 atmosphere force to the right parietal lobe. Behavior in LFP 1.7 mice was compared to behavior in mice from two separate control groups: mice subjected to craniotomy without LFP injury (Sham) and mice that did not undergo surgery (Unoperated). Following behavioral testing, neural endpoints (dendritic structural plasticity and neuronal volume) were assessed in the basolateral nucleus of the amygdala (BLA), which plays a critical sensory role in fear learning, and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), responsible for executive functions and inhibition of fear behaviors. No gross motor abnormalities or increased anxiety-like behaviors were observed in LFP or Sham mice after surgery compared to Unoperated mice. We found that all mice acquired fear behavior, assessed as conditioned freezing to auditory cue in a single session of 6 trials, and acquisition was similar across treatment groups. Using a linear mixed effects analysis, we showed that fear behavior decreased overall over 6 days of extinction training with no effect of treatment group across extinction days. However, a significant interaction was demonstrated between the treatment groups during within-session freezing behavior (5 trials per day) during extinction training. Specifically, freezing behavior increased across within-session extinction trials in LFP 1.7 mice, whereas freezing behavior in control groups did not change on extinction test days, reflecting a dissociation between within-trial and between-trial fear extinction. Additionally, LFP mice demonstrated bilateral increases in dendritic spine density in the BLA and decreases in dendritic complexity in the PFC. The translational implications are that individuals with TBI undergoing fear extinction therapy may demonstrate within-session aberrant learning that could be targeted for more effective treatment interventions.
Published by Elsevier Inc.