Long-term potentiation (LTP) at thalamic input synapses to the lateral nucleus of the amygdala (LA) has been proposed as a cellular mechanism of the formation of auditory fear memories. We have previously shown that signaling via ERK/MAPK in both the LA and the medial division of the medial geniculate nucleus/posterior intralaminar nucleus (MGm/PIN) is critical for LTP at thalamo-LA synapses. Here, we show that LTP-inducing stimulation of thalamo-LA inputs regulates the activation of ERK and the expression of ERK-driven immediate early genes (IEGs) in both the LA and MGm/PIN. Further, we show that pharmacological blockade of NMDAR-driven synaptic plasticity, NOS activation, or PKG signaling in the LA significantly impairs high-frequency stimulation-(HFS-) induced ERK activation and IEG expression in both regions, while blockade of extracellular NO signaling in the LA impairs HFS-induced ERK activation and IEG expression exclusively in the MGm/PIN. These findings suggest that NMDAR-driven synaptic plasticity and NO-cGMP-PKG signaling within the LA coordinately regulate ERK-driven gene expression in both the LA and the MGm/PIN following LTP induction at thalamo-LA synapses, and that synaptic plasticity in the LA promotes ERK-driven transcription in MGm/PIN neurons via NO-driven “retrograde signaling”
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