Acquisition and extinction of learned fear responses utilize conserved but flexible neural circuits. Here we show that acquisition of conditioned freezing behavior is associated with dynamic remodeling of relative excitatory drive from the basolateral amygdala (BLA) away from corticotropin releasing factor-expressing (CRF+) centrolateral amygdala neurons, and toward non-CRF+ (CRF−) and somatostatin-expressing (SOM+) neurons, while fear extinction training remodels this circuit back toward favoring CRF+ neurons. Importantly, BLA activity is required for this experience-dependent remodeling, while directed inhibition of the BLA–centrolateral amygdala circuit impairs both fear memory acquisition and extinction memory retrieval. Additionally, ectopic excitation of CRF+ neurons impairs fear memory acquisition and facilities extinction, whereas CRF+ neuron inhibition impairs extinction memory retrieval, supporting the notion that CRF+ neurons serve to inhibit learned freezing behavior. These data suggest that afferent-specific dynamic remodeling of relative excitatory drive to functionally distinct subcortical neuronal output populations represents an important mechanism underlying experience-dependent modification of behavioral selection.
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