, Volume 236, Issue 1, pp 339–354 | Cite as

Acute and long-lasting effects of oxytocin in cortico-limbic circuits: consequences for fear recall and extinction

  • Rodrigo Triana-Del Río
  • Erwin van den Burg
  • Ron Stoop
  • Chloé HegoburuEmail author


The extinction of conditioned fear responses entrains the formation of safe new memories to decrease those behavioral responses. The knowledge in neuronal mechanisms of extinction is fundamental in the treatment of anxiety and fear disorders. Interestingly, the use of pharmacological compounds that reduce anxiety and fear has been shown as a potent co-adjuvant in extinction therapy. However, the efficiency and mechanisms by which pharmacological compounds promote extinction of fear memories remains still largely unknown and would benefit from a validation based on functional neuronal circuits, and the neurotransmitters that modulate them. From this perspective, oxytocin receptor signaling, which has been shown in cortical and limbic areas to modulate numerous functions (Eliava et al. Neuron 89(6):1291-1304, 2016), among them fear and anxiety circuits, and to enhance the salience of social stimuli (Stoop Neuron 76(1):142-59, 2012), may offer an interesting perspective. Experiments in animals and humans suggest that oxytocin could be a promising pharmacological agent at adjusting memory consolidation to boost fear extinction. Additionally, it is possible that long-term changes in endogenous oxytocin signaling can also play a role in reducing expression of fear at different brain targets. In this review, we summarize the effects reported for oxytocin in cortico-limbic circuits and on fear behavior that are of relevance for the modulation and potential extinction of fear memories.


Fear extinction Fear retrieval Oxytocin Central amygdala Prefrontal cortex 



Anterior cingulate cortex


Vasopressin receptor


Basal amygdala


Basolateral amygdala


Cognitive behavioral therapy


Central amygdala


Centro-lateral amygdala


Centro-medial amygdala


Conditioned stimulus


Cerebrospinal fluid


Dorso-medial prefrontal cortex


Gamma amino butyric acid


Infralimbic cortex


Intercalated cell masses (dorsal)


Intercalated cell masses (ventral)


Lateral amygdala


N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor


Nucleus accumbens




Oxytocin receptor


Protein kinase delta


Prelimbic cortex


Posttraumatic stress disorder


Paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus


Unconditioned stimulus


Ventromedial prefrontal cortex


Funding information

RT is supported by the Synapsis Foundation, CH by a Marie-Heim Vögtlin grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation, and EvdB by a Swiss Federal grant from the Commission of Technology and Innovation.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rodrigo Triana-Del Río
    • 1
  • Erwin van den Burg
    • 1
  • Ron Stoop
    • 1
  • Chloé Hegoburu
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Laboratory of Neurobiology of emotions, Center of Psychiatric NeuroscienceCHUVLausanneSwitzerland

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