Ca2+ /calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II (CaMKII) plays a critical role in synaptic plasticity and memory formation in a variety of learning systems and species. The present experiments examined the role of CaMKII in the circuitry underlying pavlovian fear conditioning. First, we reveal by immunocytochemical and tract-tracing methods that αCaMKII is postsynaptic to auditory thalamic inputs and colocalized with the NR2B subunit of the NMDA receptor. Furthermore, we show that fear conditioning results in an increase of the autophosphorylated (active) form of αCaMKII in lateral amygdala (LA) spines. Next, we demonstrate that intra-amygdala infusion of a CaMK inhibitor, 1-[NO-bis-1,5-isoquinolinesulfonyl]-N-methyl-L-tyrosyl-4-phenylpiperazine, KN-62, dose-dependently impairs the acquisition, but not the expression, of auditory and contextual fear conditioning. Finally, in electrophysiological experiments, we demonstrate that an NMDA receptor-dependent form of long-term potentiation at thalamic input synapses to the LA is impaired by bath application of KN-62 in vitro. Together, the results of these experiments provide the first comprehensive view of the role of CaMKII in the amygdala during fear conditioning.
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