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Papers: 13 Jun 2020 - 19 Jun 2020

Human Studies

2020 Jun 09

Brain Behav Immun

Impact of acute inflammation on the extinction of aversive gut memories.


Benson S, Rebernik L, Pastoors D, Brinkhoff A, Wegner A, Elsenbruch S, Engler H
Brain Behav Immun. 2020 Jun 09.
PMID: 32531428.


Impaired extinction of pain-related fear memories can lead to persistent or resurging fear of pain, contributing to the development and maintenance of chronic pain conditions. The mechanisms underlying maladaptive pain-related learning and memory processes remain incompletely understood, particularly in the context of interoceptive, visceral pain. Inflammation is known to interfere with learning and memory, but its effects on the extinction of pain-related fear memories have never been tested. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, we assessed the impact of experimental acute inflammation on the extinction and reinstatement of conditioned visceral pain-related fear. Forty healthy male volunteers underwent differential fear conditioning with visceral pain as clinically relevant unconditioned stimulus (US). Participants then received an intravenous injection of either 0.8ng/kg lipopolysaccharide (LPS) as inflammatory stimulus or physiological saline as placebo, and extinction training was conducted at the peak of the inflammatory response. Extinction recall and reinstatement tests were performed after overnight consolidation. Results showed that visceral pain represents an effective US, eliciting pronounced conditioned pain-related fear responses. Repeated unreinforced presentation of the pain-predictive cue during extinction training resulted in full extinction of the conditioned behavioral response. However, unexpected re-exposure to the US during reinstatement test resulted in return of fear. Despite pronounced LPS-induced effects on inflammatory markers, cortisol, and negative affect, we did not find evidence that acute inflammation resulted in altered fear extinction. The findings support the notion that visceral pain-related fear learning establishes a robust aversive memory trace that remains preserved during inhibitory learning, leaving a latent vulnerability for the return of fear. Inflammation during inhibitory learning did neither weaken nor further amplify this aversive memory trace, suggesting that it is rather resistant to acute inflammation-induced effects, at least in healthy individuals with no additional vulnerability factors.