Using a two-way signaled active avoidance (2-AA) learning procedure, where rats were trained in a shuttle box to avoid a footshock signaled by an auditory stimulus, we tested the contributions of the lateral (LA), basal (B), and central (CE) nuclei of the amygdala to the expression of instrumental active avoidance conditioned responses (CRs). Discrete or combined lesions of the LA and B, performed after the rats had reached an asymptotic level of avoidance performance, produced deficits in the CR, whereas CE lesions had minimal effect. Fiber-sparing excitotoxic lesions of the LA/B produced by infusions of N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) also impaired avoidance performance, confirming that neurons in the LA/B are involved in mediating avoidance CRs. In a final series of experiments, bilateral electrolytic lesions of the CE were performed on a subgroup of animals that failed to acquire the avoidance CR after 3 d of training. CE lesions led to an immediate rescue of avoidance learning, suggesting that activity in CE was inhibiting the instrumental CR. Taken together, these results indicate that the LA and B are essential for the performance of a 2-AA response. The CE is not required, and may in fact constrain the instrumental avoidance response by mediating the generation of competing Pavlovian responses, such as freezing.
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