To elucidate molecular, cellular, and circuit changes that occur in the brain during learning, we investigated the role of a glutamate receptor subtype in fear conditioning. In this form of learning, animals associate two stimuli, such as a tone and a shock. Here we report that fear conditioning drives AMPA-type glutamate receptors into the synapse of a large fraction of postsynaptic neurons in the lateral amygdala, a brain structure essential for this learning process. Furthermore, memory was reduced if AMPA receptor synaptic incorporation was blocked in as few as 10 to 20% of lateral amygdala neurons. Thus, the encoding of memories in the lateral amygdala is mediated by AMPA receptor trafficking, is widely distributed, and displays little redundancy.
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