Although endogenous recruitment of adult neural stem cells has been proposed as a therapeutic strategy, clinical approaches for achieving this are lacking. Here, we show that metformin, a widely used drug, promotes neurogenesis and enhances spatial memory formation. Specifically, we show that an atypical PKC-CBP pathway is essential for the normal genesis of neurons from neural precursors and that metformin activates this pathway to promote rodent and human neurogenesis in culture. Metformin also enhances neurogenesis in the adult mouse brain in a CBP-dependent fashion, and in so doing enhances spatial reversal learning in the water maze. Thus, metformin, by activating an aPKC-CBP pathway, recruits neural stem cells and enhances neural function, thereby providing a candidate pharmacological approach for nervous system therapy.
Deep brain stimulation (DBS)is an established therapeutic modality for the treatment of movement disorders and an emerging therapeutic approach for the treatment of disorders of mood and thought. For example, recently we have shown that DBS of the fornix may ameliorate cognitive decline associated with dementia. However, like other applications of DBS, the mechanisms mediating these clinical effects are unknown. As DBS modulates neurophysiological activity in targeted brain regions, DBS might influence cognitive function via activity-dependent regulation of hippocampal neurogenesis. Using stimulation parameters analogous to clinical high-frequency DBS, here we addressed this question in mice. We found that acute stimulation of the entorhinal cortex (EC) transiently promoted proliferation in the dentate gyrus (DG). Cells generated as a consequence of stimulation differentiated into neurons, survived for at least several weeks, and acquired normal dentate granule cell (DGC) morphology. Importantly, stimulation-induced promotion of neurogenesis was limited to the DG and not associated with changes in apoptotic cell death. Using immunohistochemical approaches, we found that, once sufficiently mature, these stimulation-induced neurons integrated into hippocampal circuits supporting water-maze memory. Finally, formation of water-maze memory was facilitated 6 weeks (but not 1 week) after bilateral stimulation of the EC. The delay-dependent nature of these effects matches the maturation-dependent integration of adult-generated DGCs into dentate circuits supporting water-maze memory. Furthermore, because the beneficial effects of EC stimulation were prevented by blocking neurogenesis, this suggests a causal relationship between stimulation-induced promotion of adult neurogenesis and enhanced spatial memory.
Mice lacking a functional vasopressin 1b receptor (Avpr1b) display decreased levels of aggression and social memory. Here, we used Avpr1b-knock-out (Avpr1b Ϫ/Ϫ ) mice to examine whether an abnormality of this receptor results in specific cognitive deficits in the domain of hippocampal function. Avpr1b Ϫ/Ϫ mice were deficient in sociability and in detecting social novelty, extending previous findings of impairment in social recognition in these mutants. Avpr1bϪ/Ϫ mice could recognize previously explored objects and remember where they were experienced, but they were impaired in remembering the temporal order of presentation of those objects. Consistent with this finding, Avpr1bϪ/Ϫ mice were also impaired on an object-odor paired associate task that involved a temporal discontiguity between the associated elements. Finally, Avpr1b Ϫ/Ϫ mice performed normally in learning a set of overlapping odor discriminations and could infer relationships among odors that were only indirectly associated (i.e., transitive inference), indicating intact relational memory. The Avpr1b is expressed at much higher levels than any other part of the brain in the pyramidal cells of hippocampal CA2 area, a subfield of the hippocampus that has physiological and genetic properties that distinguish it from subfields CA1 and CA3. The combined results suggest that the Avpr1b, perhaps in CA2, may play a highly specific role in social behavior and episodic memory. Because schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are associated with a unique pathology in CA2 and impairments in both social behavior and episodic memory, this animal model could provide insights into the etiology of these disorders.
Episodic memory involves remembering the incidental order of a series of events that comprise a specific experience. Current models of temporal organization in episodic memory have demonstrated that animals can make memory judgments about the order of serially presented events; however, in these protocols, the animals can judge items based on their relative recency. Thus, it remains unclear as to whether animals use the specific order of items in forming memories of distinct sequences. To resolve this important issue in memory representation, we presented mice repeatedly with two widely separated odor sequences and then tested their natural exploratory preference between pairs of odors selected from within or between sequences. Intact animals preferred to investigate odors that occurred earlier within each sequence, indicating they did remember the order of events within each distinct sequence. In contrast, intact animals did not discriminate between pairs of odors from different sequences. These findings indicate that preferences were not guided by relative recency, which would be expected to support graded discrimination between widely separated events. Furthermore, damage to either the hippocampus or the medial prefrontal cortex eliminated order preference within sequences. Despite the deficit in order memory, control recognition tests showed that normal mice and mice with hippocampal or medial prefrontal damage could correctly identify previously experienced odors compared with novel odors. These findings provide strong evidence that animals form representations of the order of events within specific experiences and that the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex are essential to order memory.
There is substantial evidence implicating N-methyl-d-aspartate receptors (NMDARs) in memory and cognition. It has also been suggested that NMDAR hypofunction might underlie the cognitive deficits observed in schizophrenia since morphological changes, including alterations in the dendritic architecture of pyramidal neurons in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), have been reported in the schizophrenic brain post mortem. Here, we used a genetic model of NMDAR hypofunction, a serine racemase knockout (SR−/−) mouse in which the first coding exon of the mouse serine racemase gene has been deleted, to explore the role of d-serine in regulating cognitive functions as well as dendritic architecture. SR −/− mice exhibited a significantly disrupted representation of the order of events in distinct experiences as revealed by object recognition and odor sequence tests; however, SR −/− animals were unimpaired in the detection of novel objects and in spatial displacement, and showed intact relational memory in a test of transitive inference. In addition, SR −/− mice exhibited normal sociability and preference for social novelty. Neurons in the medial PFC of SR−/− mice displayed reductions in the complexity, total length, and spine density of apical dendrites. These findings demonstrate that d-serine is important for specific aspects of cognition, as well as in regulating dendritic morphology of pyramidal neurons in the mPFC. Moreover, they suggest that NMDAR hypofunction might, in part, be responsible for the cognitive deficits and synaptic changes associated with schizophrenia, and highlight this signaling pathway as a potential target for therapeutic intervention.
There is a current controversy regarding whether non-human animals have a capacity for episodic memory, defined by the ability to remember what happened and where and when it occurred. It is also unclear which brain structures support the "what," "where," and "when" aspects of episodic memory. Here we addressed these issues by testing episodic memory in mice, using an object recognition task that has previously been employed to assess the "what," "where," and "when" components of recognition memory. Whereas intact mice remembered which objects they had explored, as well as when and where they were experienced, mice with damage to the hippocampus were impaired on all three components of the task. In contrast, animals with medial prefrontal cortical lesions were selectively impaired on the "where" component of the task, but had intact memory for "what" and "when." These results are consistent with the hypothesis that the hippocampus integrates the "what," "where," and "when" features of unique experiences, whereas the prefrontal cortex makes a more selective contribution to retrieving source information about where events occurred.
“Transitive inference” refers to the ability to judge from memory the relationships between indirectly related items that compose a hierarchically organized series, and this capacity is considered a fundamental feature of relational memory. Here we explored the role of the prefrontal cortex in transitive inference by examining the performance of mice with selective damage to the medial prefrontal cortex. Damage to the infralimbic and prelimbic regions resulted in significant impairment in the acquisition of a series of overlapping odor discrimination problems, such that animals with prefrontal lesions required twice as many trials to learn compared to sham-operated controls. Following eventually successful acquisition, animals with medial prefrontal lesions were severely impaired on a transitive inference probe test, whereas they performed as well as controls on a test that involved a nontransitive judgment from a novel odor pairing. These results suggest that the prefrontal cortex is part of an integral hippocampal–cortical network essential for relational memory organization.
There is substantial evidence that the hippocampus plays a role in transitive inference, the capacity to link overlapping memories and subsequently make novel judgments between elements of those memories that are only indirectly related. However, it is unclear whether the hippocampus is involved primarily during the original acquisition of the overlapping memories, or additionally during the flexible expression of those memories during transitive judgments. Here, we demonstrated that selective hippocampal damage produced after acquisition of the overlapping memories resulted in a severe impairment in subsequent transitive inference judgments, indicating that the hippocampus does play an important role beyond the initial learning phase. Furthermore, this study extends to mice a role for the hippocampus in transitive inference, as previously observed in other species.
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