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Author Notes:

Correspondence: Seth D. Norrholm, Mental Health Service Line 116A, Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center, 1670 Clairmont Road, Suite 1E 113C, Decatur, GA 30033, USA. e-mail: snorrho@emory.edu; seth.norrholm@va.gov.

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.


Research Funding:

Dr. Norrholm has research support from the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD), the Department of Defense (DoD)/Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP; #W81XWH-08-2-0170), the Emory University Research Committee, and the PHS Grant (UL1 RR025008) from the Clinical and Translational Science Award Program, National Institutes of Health, National Center for Research Resources.

Dr. Jovanovic has research support from NIMH (MH092576), NARSAD, and the Emory Care Medical Foundation.

Dr. Duncan has research support from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (1R01DA018294-01A2) and the VA Merit Review Program.

Dr. Rothbaum has funding from Department of Defense Clinical Trial Grant No. W81XWH-10-1-1045, NIMH, Grant No. U19 MH069056-03, NIMH Grant No. R34 MH 083078-01A1, and NIMH Grant No. 1R01MH70880-01-A2.

Dr. Bradley has research support from the VA Merit Review Program.


  • Science & Technology
  • Life Sciences & Biomedicine
  • Behavioral Sciences
  • Neurosciences
  • Neurosciences & Neurology
  • fear conditioning
  • acoustic startle
  • auditory
  • extinction
  • discrimination
  • human

Versatility of fear-potentiated startle paradigms for assessing human conditioned fear extinction and return of fear

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Journal Title:

Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience


Volume 5, Number NOVEMBER


, Pages 77-77

Type of Work:

Article | Final Publisher PDF


Fear conditioning methodologies have often been employed as testable models for assessing learned fear responses in individuals with anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and specific phobia. One frequently used paradigm is measurement of the acoustic startle reflex under conditions that mimic anxiogenic and fear-related conditions. For example, fear-potentiated startle is the relative increase in the frequency or magnitude of the acoustic startle reflex in the presence of a previously neutral cue (e.g., colored shape; termed the conditioned stimulus or CS+) that has been repeatedly paired with an aversive unconditioned stimulus (e.g., airblast to the larynx). Our group has recently used fear-potentiated startle paradigms to demonstrate impaired fear extinction in civilian and combat populations with PTSD. In the current study, we examined the use of either auditory or visual CSs in a fear extinction protocol that we have validated and applied to human clinical conditions. This represents an important translational bridge in that numerous animal studies of fear extinction, upon which much of the human work is based, have employed the use of auditory CSs as opposed to visual CSs. Participants in both the auditory and visual groups displayed robust fear-potentiated startle to the CS+, clear discrimination between the reinforced CS+ and non-reinforced CS-, significant extinction to the previously reinforced CS+, and marked spontaneous recovery. We discuss the current results as they relate to future investigations of PTSD-related impairments in fear processing in populations with diverse medical and psychiatric histories.

Copyright information:

© 2011 Norrholm, Anderson, Olin, Jovanovic, Kwon, Warren, McCarthy, Bosshardt, Sabree, Duncan, Rothbaum and Bradley. This is an open-access article subject to a non-exclusive license between the authors and Frontiers Media SA, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and other Frontiers conditions are complied with.

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