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Treasure Box Funding for Valerie Kinner (A09)

Pump Up Extinction! Valerie Kinner wonders if a work out can help the memory?

As a PhD student in Project A09, Valerie has learned a lot about learning and forgetting under the influence of stress. Usually, their team uses gentle electric shocks or ice-cold water to stress their study participants. They were able to show that stress has an immense effect on memory; stress situations are better noted. But what about positive stimulating stress? What about sports? Today, as a postdoc, she wants to investigate what was the last thing on her mind. And this is how she presents her idea for the study:

Study title: “The Influence of Acute Movement on the Strengthening of Anxiety Memory”

Based on the mechanisms of fear extinction, exposure therapy is the most common behavioral therapy for anxiety and trauma-related disorders. However, extinguished fear responses do not simply disappear but tend to reemerge even after successful treatment. The identification of novel means to create a strong extinction memory trace that is rendered impervious to relapse is thus of utmost importance for the augmentation of long-term therapeutic efficacy. Work in rats suggests that a single episode of acute exercise can enhance the acquisition and consolidation of fear extinction. However, experimental studies in humans are scarce with exercise effects on return of fear phenomena being hardly studied to date. Likewise, little is known about the mechanisms by which acute exercise may enhance fear extinction. To address these issues, I plan to subject healthy participants to a differential fear conditioning paradigm with fear acquisition on day one and fear extinction on day two, followed by a brief exercise session or a resting control condition. On the third day, extinction memory will be tested using a retention and reinstatement test with skin conductance and pupillary responses used as a measure of conditioned fear. I expect post-extinction exercise to enhance extinction memory retention and to reduce reinstatement induced return of fear. Moreover, I hypothesize stress-related mediators that are also released in response to physical exercise to mediate the beneficial effects of exercise on fear extinction memory. With this study we will be able to expand our knowledge of factors able to modulate fear extinction memories, an area of high relevance for basic science and clinical applications alike.

The SFB 180 has set up a budget to realize the research ideas of its young scientists. With the “treasure chest” we finance convincing and independent study concepts of young scientists.