Impairment in extinction of contextual and cued fear following post-training whole-body irradiation

Reid H.J. Olsen, Tessa Marzulla, Jacob Raber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Because of the use of radiation in cancer therapy, the risk of nuclear contamination from power plants, military conflicts, and terrorism, there is a compelling scientific and public health interest in the effects of environmental radiation exposure on brain function, in particular hippocampal function and learning and memory. Previous studies have emphasized changes in learning and memory following radiation exposure. These approaches have ignored the question of how radiation exposure might impact recently acquired memories, which might be acquired under traumatic circumstances (cancer treatment, nuclear disaster, etc.). To address the question of how radiation exposure might affect the processing and recall of recently acquired memories, we employed a fear conditioning paradigm wherein animals were trained, and subsequently irradiated (whole-body X-ray irradiation) 24 h later. Animals were given 2 weeks to recover, and were tested for retention and extinction of hippocampus-dependent contextual fear conditioning or hippocampus-independent cued fear conditioning. Exposure to irradiation following training was associated with reduced daily increases in body weights over the 22-days of the study and resulted in greater freezing levels and aberrant extinction 2 weeks later. This was also observed when the intensity of the training protocol was increased. Cued freezing levels and measures of anxiety 2 weeks after training were also higher in irradiated than sham-irradiated mice. In contrast to contextual freezing levels, cued freezing levels were even higher in irradiated mice receiving 5 shocks during training than sham-irradiated mice receiving 10 shocks during training. In addition, the effects of radiation on extinction of contextual fear were more profound than those on the extinction of cued fear. Thus, whole-body irradiation elevates contextual and cued fear memory recall.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number231
JournalFrontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue numberJULY
StatePublished - Jul 2 2014


  • Anxiety
  • Body weight
  • Fear conditioning
  • Irradiation
  • Post-training
  • Wild-type mice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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