Basal variability in CREB phosphorylation predicts trait-like differences in amygdala-dependent memory

Kiriana K. Cowansage, David E.A. Bush, Sheena A. Josselyn, Eric Klann, Joseph E. LeDoux

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Much of what is known about the neurobiology of learning and memory comes from studies of the average behavior. In contrast, intersubject differences that emerge within groups are difficult to study systematically and are often excluded from scientific discussion. Nevertheless, population-wide variability is a virtually universal feature of both complex traits, such as intelligence, and hardwired responses, such as defensive behaviors. Here, we use outbred rats to investigate if cAMP response element-binding protein (CREB), a transcription factor that has long been known in experimental settings to be crucial for associative plasticity, participates in natural memory phenotypes. Using a combination of behavioral, biochemical, and viral techniques, we show that a subset of rats with trait-like deficits in aversive memory have basally reduced CREB activity in the lateral amygdala but can be induced to perform at average levels by directly or indirectly enhancing pretraining CREB phosphorylation. These data suggest that endogenous CREB activity in the amygdala may set a critical threshold for plasticity during memory formation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16645-16650
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number41
StatePublished - Oct 8 2013


  • Fear conditioning
  • Individual differences
  • Novelty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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