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Fear memories can be reactivated by a fear-associated conditioned stimulus (CS) or unconditioned stimulus (US) and then undergo reconsolidation. Propranolol administration during CS retrieval-induced reconsolidation can impair fear memory that is specific to the reactivated CS. However, from a practical perspective, the US is often associated with multiple CSs, and each CS can induce a fear response. The present study sought to develop and test a US-based memory retrieval interference procedure with propranolol to disrupt the original fear memory and eliminate all CS-associated fear responses in humans. We recruited 127 young healthy volunteers and conducted three experiments. All of the subjects acquired fear conditioning, after which they received the β-adrenergic receptor antagonist propranolol (40 mg) or placebo (vitamin C) and were exposed to the US or CS to reactivate the original fear memory. Fear responses were measured. Oral propranolol administration 1 h before US retrieval significantly decreased subsequent fear responses and disrupted associations between all CSs and the US. However, propranolol administration before CS retrieval only inhibited the fear memory that was related to the reactivated CS. Moreover, the propranolol-induced inhibition of fear memory reconsolidation that was retrieved by the US had a relatively long-lasting effect (at least 2 weeks) and was also effective for remote fear memory. These findings indicate that the US-based memory retrieval interference procedure with propranolol can permanently decrease the fear response and prevent the return of fear for all CSs in humans. This procedure may open new avenues for treating fear-related disorders.


Jiahui Deng, Le Shi, Kai Yuan, Ping Yao, Sijing Chen, Jianyu Que, Yimiao Gong, Yanping Bao, Jie Shi, Ying Han, Hongqiang Sun, Lin Lu. Propranolol-induced inhibition of unconditioned stimulus-reactivated fear memory prevents the return of fear in humans. Translational psychiatry. 2020 Oct 13;10(1):345

PMID: 33051441

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