Paper in Behavioural Brain Research
  • Johnston IN, Maier SF, Rudy JW, Watkins LR. (2012). Post-conditioning experience with acute or chronic inflammatory pain reduces contextual fear conditioning in the rat. Behavioural Brain Research, 226(2):361-8.

    There is evidence that pain can impact cognitive function in people. The present study evaluated whether Pavlovian fear conditioning in rats would be reduced if conditioning were followed by persistent inflammatory pain induced by a subcutaneous injection of dilute formalin or complete Freund's adjuvant (CFA) on the dorsal lumbar surface of the back. Formalin-induced pain specifically impaired contextual fear conditioning but not auditory cue conditioning (Experiment 1A). Moreover, formalin pain only impaired contextual fear conditioning if it was initiated within 1h of conditioning and did not have a significant effect if initiated 2, 8 or 32 h after (Experiments 1A and 1B). Experiment 2 showed that formalin pain initiated after a session of context pre-exposure reduced the ability of that pre-exposure to facilitate contextual fear when the rat was limited to a brief exposure to the context during conditioning. Similar impairments in context- but not CS-fear conditioning were also observed if the rats received an immediate post-conditioning injection with CFA (Experiment 3). Finally, we confirmed that formalin and CFA injected s.c. on the back induced pain-indicative behaviours, hyperalgesia and allodynia with a similar timecourse to intraplantar injections (Experiment 4). These results suggest that persistent pain impairs learning in a hippocampus-dependent task, and may disrupt processes that encode experiences into long-term memory.