The role of different amygdala nuclei (neuroanatomical subdivisions) in processing Pavlovian conditioned fear has been studied extensively, but the function of the heterogeneous neuronal subtypes within these nuclei remains poorly understood. Here we use molecular genetic approaches to map the functional connectivity of a subpopulation of GABA-containing neurons, located in the lateral subdivision of the central amygdala (CEl), which express protein kinase C-δ (PKC-δ). Channelrhodopsin-2-assisted circuit mapping in amygdala slices and cell-specific viral tracing indicate that PKC-δ + neurons inhibit output neurons in the medial central amygdala (CEm), and also make reciprocal inhibitory synapses with PKC-δ neurons in CEl. Electrical silencing of PKC-δ + neurons in vivo suggests that they correspond to physiologically identified units that are inhibited by the conditioned stimulus, called CEl off units. This correspondence, together with behavioural data, defines an inhibitory microcircuit in CEl that gates CEm output to control the level of conditioned freezing.
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