Lower estradiol predicts increased reinstatement of fear in women
Felmingham, KL and Caruana, JM and Miller, LN and Ney, LJ and Zuj, DV and Hsu, KCM and Nicholson, E and To, A and Bryant, RA, Lower estradiol predicts increased reinstatement of fear in women, Behaviour Research and Therapy, 142 Article 103875. ISSN 0005-7967 (2021) [Refereed Article]
Low levels of estradiol in women have been associated with impaired fear extinction recall, with suggestions this may promote the return of fear and heighten the female vulnerability for anxiety disorders. A particularly important measure for the return of fear is reinstatement, but no human studies to date have examined the impact of estradiol on fear reinstatement. Forty-two healthy females completed a differential fear conditioning, extinction and reinstatement task with skin conductance response (SCR) amplitude indexing level of conditioned fear. Saliva samples were taken to measure estradiol and progesterone. To examine fear reinstatement, SCR amplitude was compared between the last trial of the late extinction phase to the first re-extinction trial following the unsignaled presentation of two aversive electric shocks. No significant effects of estradiol were found for acquisition of fear conditioning or fear extinction learning. Lower estradiol predicted a significantly larger generalized SCR amplitude at re-extinction (post-reinstatement) in women. This provides novel evidence suggesting a protective role of estradiol in potentially reducing the relapse of fear following re-exposure to aversive stimuli, although further research is necessary in clinical populations to clarify this effect.
fear conditioning, fear reinstatement, PTSD, estrogen, sex hormones