Perineuronal Nets Protect Fear Memories from Erasure

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Science  04 Sep 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5945, pp. 1258-1261
DOI: 10.1126/science.1174146

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In adult animals, fear conditioning induces a permanent memory that is resilient to erasure by extinction. In contrast, during early postnatal development, extinction of conditioned fear leads to memory erasure, suggesting that fear memories are actively protected in adults. We show here that this protection is conferred by extracellular matrix chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans (CSPGs) in the amygdala. The organization of CSPGs into perineuronal nets (PNNs) coincided with the developmental switch in fear memory resilience. In adults, degradation of PNNs by chondroitinase ABC specifically rendered subsequently acquired fear memories susceptible to erasure. This result indicates that intact PNNs mediate the formation of erasure-resistant fear memories and identifies a molecular mechanism closing a postnatal critical period during which traumatic memories can be erased by extinction.

  • * Present address: Department of Molecular & Cellular Biology, Harvard University, 52 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.

  • Present address: INSERM U862, Neurocentre Magendie, 146 rue Leo Saignat, 33077 Bordeaux, France.

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