Transient acidosis while retrieving a fear-related memory enhances its lability

Attenuating the strength of fearful memories could benefit people disabled by memories of past trauma. Pavlovian conditioning experiments indicate that a retrieval cue can return a conditioned aversive memory to a labile state. However, means to enhance retrieval and render a memory more labile are unknown. We hypothesized that augmenting synaptic signaling during retrieval would increase memory lability. To enhance synaptic transmission, mice inhaled CO2 to induce an acidosis and activate acid sensing ion channels. Transient acidification increased the retrieval-induced lability of an aversive memory. The labile memory could then be weakened by an extinction protocol or strengthened by reconditioning. Coupling CO2 inhalation to retrieval increased activation of amygdala neurons bearing the memory trace and increased the synaptic exchange from Ca2+-impermeable to Ca2+-permeable AMPA receptors. The results suggest that transient acidosis during retrieval renders the memory of an aversive event more labile and suggest a strategy to modify debilitating memories.