Reduced fear expression after lesions of the ventral hippocampus.
The hippocampus has a critical role in several fundamental memory operations, including the conditioning of fear to contextual information. We show that the hippocampus is necessary also for unconditioned fear, and that the involved circuitry is at the ventral pole of the hippocampus. Rats with selective hippocampal lesions failed to avoid open arms in an elevated plus-maze and had decreased neuroendocrine stress responses during confinement to a brightly lit chamber. These effects were reproduced by lesions of the ventral half of the hippocampus, but not by damage to the dorsal three-quarters of the hippocampus or the amygdala. Ventral lesions failed to impair contextual fear conditioning or spatial navigation, suggesting that the ventral hippocampus may specifically influence some types of defensive fear-related behavior.