Fear extinction requires coordinated neural activity within the amygdala and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). Any behavior has a transcriptomic signature that is modified by environmental experiences, and specific genes are involved in functional plasticity and synaptic wiring during fear extinction. Here, we investigated the effects of optogenetic manipulations of prelimbic (PrL) pyramidal neurons and amygdala gene expression to analyze the specific transcriptional pathways associated to adaptive and maladaptive fear extinction. To this aim, transgenic mice were (or not) fear-conditioned and during the extinction phase they received optogenetic (or sham) stimulations over photo-activable PrL pyramidal neurons. At the end of behavioral testing, electrophysiological (neural cellular excitability and Excitatory Post-Synaptic Currents) and morphological (spinogenesis) correlates were evaluated in the PrL pyramidal neurons. Furthermore, transcriptomic cell-specific RNA-analyses (differential gene expression profiling and functional enrichment analyses) were performed in amygdala pyramidal neurons. Our results show that the optogenetic activation of PrL pyramidal neurons in fear-conditioned mice induces fear extinction deficits, reflected in an increase of cellular excitability, excitatory neurotransmission, and spinogenesis of PrL pyramidal neurons, and associated to strong modifications of the transcriptome of amygdala pyramidal neurons. Understanding the electrophysiological, morphological, and transcriptomic architecture of fear extinction may facilitate the comprehension of fear-related disorders.
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