Brain Mechanisms of Fear Extinction: Historical Perspectives on the Contribution of Prefrontal Cortex

Francisco Sotres-Bayon, Christopher K. Cain, Joseph E. LeDoux

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


What brain regions are involved in regulating behavior when the emotional consequence of a stimulus changes from harmful to harmless? One way to address this question is to study the neural mechanisms underlying extinction of Pavlovian fear conditioning, an important form of emotional regulation that has direct relevance to the treatment of human fear and anxiety disorders. In fear extinction, the capacity of a conditioned stimulus to elicit fear is gradually reduced by repeatedly presenting it in the absence of any aversive consequence. In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in research on the brain mechanisms of fear extinction. One region that has received considerable attention as a component of the brain's extinction circuitry is the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). In the present article, we review the historical foundations of the modern notion that the mPFC plays a critical role in emotional regulation, a literature that was largely responsible for studies that explored the role of the mPFC in fear extinction. We also consider the role of the mPFC in a broader neural circuit for extinction that includes the amygdala and hippocampus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)329-336
Number of pages8
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 15 2006


  • Emotion
  • amygdala
  • conditioning
  • exposure therapy
  • hippocampus
  • history

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biological Psychiatry


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