Context-dependent extinction of threat memories: influences of healthy aging.Sci Rep. 2018 08 22; 8(1):12592.SR
Although a substantial progress has been made in recent years on understanding the processes mediating extinction of learned threat, little is known about the context-dependent extinction of threat memories in elderly individuals. We used a 2-day differential threat conditioning and extinction procedure to determine whether young and older adults differed in the contextual recall of conditioned responses after extinction. On Day 1, conditioned stimuli were paired with an aversive electric shock in a 'danger' context and then extinguished in a different 'safe' context. On Day 2, the extinguished stimulus was presented to assess extinction recall (safe context), and threat renewal (danger context). Physiological and verbal report measures of threat conditioning were collected throughout the experiment. Skin conductance response (SCR data revealed no significant differences between age groups during acquisition and extinction of threat conditioning on Day 1. On Day 2, however, older adults showed impaired recall of extinction memory, with increased SCR to the extinguished stimulus in the 'safe' context, and reduced ability to process context properly. In addition, there were no age group differences in fear ratings and contingency awareness, thus revealing that aging selectively impairs extinction memories as indexed by autonomic responses. These results reveal that aging affects the capacity to use context to modulate learned responses to threat, possibly due to changes in brain structures that enable context-dependent behaviour and are preferentially vulnerable during aging.