In previous studies using male rodents, context change disrupted a fear response at a short, but not a long, retention interval. Here, we examined the effects of context changes on fear responses as a function of time in male and female rats. Males displayed context discrimination at all intervals, whereas females exhibited generalization by 5 d. Ovariectomized females with no hormone replacement displayed context discrimination at 5 d, whereas those receiving 17β-estradiol generalized their fear response to a neutral context. These results demonstrate that fear generalization for contextual cues occurs faster in female rats and is mediated, in part, by estrogens.
Using a retrograde amnesia procedure, the susceptibility of the extinction of fear conditioning was assessed in two experiments. Extinction of a passive-avoidance task was impaired by a body-cooling treatment (e.g., hypothermia; ) which was too mild to induce amnesia for the avoidance training, suggesting that the memory for extinction is more susceptible to body cooling than the memory for the initial fear conditioning. Decreasing the severity of the treatment decreased its ability to disrupt extinction. Thus, the study demonstrates a difference in the vulnerability to amnesia of fear conditioning vs. extinction of that fear.