Role of human ventromedial prefrontal cortex in learning and recall of enhanced extinction

Joseph E. Dunsmoor, Marijn C.W. Kroes, Jian Li, Nathaniel D. Daw, Helen B. Simpson, Elizabeth A. Phelps

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Standard fear extinction relies on the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) to form a new memory given the omission of threat. Using fMRI in humans, we investigated whether replacing threat with novel neutral outcomes (instead of just omitting threat) facilitates extinction by engaging thevmPFCmore effectively than standard extinction. Computational modeling of associability (indexing surprise strength and dynamically modulating learning rates) characterized skin conductance responses and vmPFC activity during novelty facilitated but not standard extinction. Subjects who showed faster within-session updating of associability during novelty-facilitated extinction also expressed better extinction retention the next day, as expressed through skin conductance responses. Finally, separable patterns of connectivity between the amygdala and ventral versus dorsal mPFC characterized retrieval of novelty-facilitated versus standard extinction memories, respectively. These results indicate that replacing threat with novel outcomes stimulates vmPFC involvement on extinction trials, leading to a more durable long-term extinction memory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3264-3276
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number17
StatePublished - Apr 24 2019


  • Extinction
  • Fmri
  • Inhibitory learning
  • Pavlovian conditioning
  • Ventromedial prefrontal cortex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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