Interaction between the cholecystokinin and endogenous cannabinoid systems in cued fear expression and extinction retention

Mallory E. Bowers, Kerry J. Ressler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is thought to develop, in part, from improper inhibition of fear. Accordingly, one of the most effective treatment strategies for PTSD is exposure-based psychotherapy. Ideally, neuroscience would inform adjunct therapies that target the neurotransmitter systems involved in extinction processes. Separate studies have implicated the cholecystokinin (CCK) and endocannabinoid systems in fear; however, there is a high degree of anatomical colocalization between the cannabinoid 1 receptor (Cnr1) and CCK in the basolateral amygdala (BLA), a brain region critical for emotion regulation. Although most research has focused on GABA and GABAergic plasticity as the mechanism by which Cnr1 mediates fear inhibition, we hypothesize that a functional interaction between Cnr1 and CCKB receptor (CCKBR) is critical for fear extinction processes. In this study, systemic pharmacological manipulation of the cannabinoid system modulated cued fear expression in C57BL/6J mice after consolidation of auditory fear conditioning. Knockout of the CCKBR, however, had no effect on fear-or anxiety-like behaviors. Nonetheless, administration of a Cnr1 antagonist increased freezing behavior during a cued fear expression test in wild-type subjects, but had no effect on freezing behavior in CCKBR knockout littermates. In addition, we found that Cnr1-positive fibers form perisomatic clusters around CCKBR-positive cell bodies in the BLA. These CCKBR-positive cells comprise a molecularly heterogenous population of excitatory and inhibitory neurons. These findings provide novel evidence that Cnr1 contributes to cued fear expression via an interaction with the CCK system. Dysfunctional Cnr1-CCKBR interactions might contribute to the etiology of, or result from, fear-related psychiatric disease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)688-700
Number of pages13
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2015
Externally publishedYes


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