Traumatic fear memories can be inhibited by behavioral therapy for humans, or by extinction training in rodent models, but are prone to recur. Under some conditions, however, these treatments generate a permanent effect on behavior, which suggests that emotional memory erasure has occurred. The neural basis for such disparate outcomes is unknown. We found that a central component of extinction-induced erasure is the synaptic removal of calcium-permeable a-amino-3-hydroxyl-5-methyl-4-isoxazole-propionate receptors (AMPARs) in the lateral amygdala. A transient up-regulation of this form of plasticity, which involves phosphorylation of the glutamate receptor 1 subunit of the AMPA receptor, defines a temporal window in which fear memory can be degraded by behavioral experience. These results reveal a molecular mechanism for fear erasure and the relative instability of recent memory.