Optical activation of lateral amygdala pyramidal cells instructs associative fear learning

Joshua P. Johansen, Hiroki Hamanaka, Marie H. Monfils, Rudy Behnia, Karl Deisseroth, Hugh T. Blair, Joseph E. LeDoux

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Humans and animals can learn that specific sensory cues in the environment predict aversive events through a form of associative learning termed fear conditioning. This learning occurs when the sensory cues are paired with an aversive event occuring in close temporal proximity. Activation of lateral amygdala (LA) pyramidal neurons by aversive stimuli is thought to drive the formation of these associative fear memories; yet, there have been no direct tests of this hypothesis. Here we demonstrate that viral-targeted, tissue-specific expression of the light-activated channelrhodopsin (ChR2) in LA pyramidal cells permitted optical control of LA neuronal activity. Using this approach we then paired an auditory sensory cue with optical stimulation of LA pyramidal neurons instead of an aversive stimulus. Subsequently presentation of the tone alone produced behavioral fear responses. These results demonstrate in vivo optogenetic control of LA neurons and provide compelling support for the idea that fear learning is instructed by aversive stimulus-induced activation of LA pyramidal cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12692-12697
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number28
StatePublished - Jul 13 2010


  • Channelrhodopsin
  • Memory
  • Reinforcement
  • Teaching signal
  • Virus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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