Understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying the formation and maintenance of memories is a central goal of the neuroscience community. It is well regarded that an organism's ability to lastingly adapt its behavior in response to a transient environmental stimulus relies on the central nervous system's capability for structural and functional plasticity. This plasticity is dependent on a well-regulated program of neurotransmitter release, post-synaptic receptor activation, intracellular signaling cascades, gene transcription, and subsequent protein synthesis. In the last decade, epigenetic markers like DNA methylation and post-translational modifications of histone tails have emerged as important regulators of the memory process. Their ability to regulate gene transcription dynamically in response to neuronal activation supports the consolidation of long-term memory. Furthermore, the persistent and self-propagating nature of these mechanisms, particularly DNA methylation, suggests a molecular mechanism for memory maintenance. In this review, we will examine the evidence that supports a role of epigenetic mechanisms in learning and memory. In doing so, we hope to emphasize (1) the widespread involvement of these mechanisms across different behavioral paradigms and distinct brain regions, (2) the temporal and genetic specificity of these mechanisms in response to upstream signaling cascades, and (3) the functional outcome these mechanisms may have on structural and functional plasticity. Finally, we consider the future directions of neuroepigenetic research as it relates to neuronal storage of information.
New granule cells are born throughout life in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampal formation. Given the fundamental role of the hippocampus in processes underlying certain forms of learning and memory, it has been speculated that newborn granule cells contribute to cognition. However, previous strategies aiming to causally link newborn neurons with hippocampal function used ablation strategies that were not exclusive to the hippocampus or that were associated with substantial side effects, such as inflammation. We here used a lentiviral approach to specifically block neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus of adult male rats by inhibiting WNT signaling, which is critically involved in the generation of newborn neurons, using a dominant-negative WNT (dnWNT). We found a level-dependent effect of adult neurogenesis on the long-term retention of spatial memory in the water maze task, as rats with substantially reduced levels of newborn neurons showed less preference for the target zone in probe trials > 2 wk after acquisition compared with control rats. Furthermore, animals with strongly reduced levels of neurogenesis were impaired in a hippocampus-dependent object recognition task. Social transmission of food preference, a behavioral test that also depends on hippocampal function, was not affected by knockdown of neurogenesis. Here we identified a role for newborn neurons in distinct aspects of hippocampal function that will set the ground to further elucidate, using experimental and computational strategies, the mechanism by which newborn neurons contribute to behavior.
Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) can be a rapidly progressive disorder and is associated with high rate of mortality, despite medical intervention. With the availability of effective therapy, early disease detection is an important strategic objective to improve treatment outcomes. Resting echocardiography is currently the recommended screening modality for high-risk population groups. However, it is clear that derangements in resting haemodynamics (and symptoms) are late sequelae of the pathobiological processes that begin in the distal pulmonary arteries. Exercise stress may unmask early pulmonary vascular dysfunction but the definition, clinical significance, and natural history of 'exercise PAH' remain undefined. We will review the currently available and potential future strategies aimed at early disease detection, and propose that ultimately the way forward is to detect disease at a stage prior to the rise in resting pulmonary artery pressure.
The honeybee Apis mellifera has emerged as a robust and influential model for the study of classical conditioning, thanks to the existence of a powerful Pavlovian conditioning protocol, the olfactory conditioning of the proboscis extension response (PER). In 2011, the olfactory PER conditioning protocol celebrates 50 years since it was first introduced by Kimihisa Takeda in 1961. Here, we review its origins, developments, and perspectives in order to define future research avenues and necessary methodological and conceptual evolutions. We show that olfactory PER conditioning has become a versatile tool for the study of questions in extremely diverse fields in addition to the study of learning and memory and that it has allowed behavioral characterizations, not only of honeybees, but also of other insect species, for which the protocol was adapted. We celebrate, therefore, Takeda's original work and prompt colleagues to conceive and establish further robust behavioral tools for an accurate characterization of insect learning and memory at multiple levels of analysis.
In rodents, the novel object recognition task (NOR) has become a benchmark task for assessing recognition memory. Yet, despite its widespread use, a consensus has not developed about which brain structures are important for task performance. We assessed both the anterograde and retrograde effects of hippocampal lesions on performance in the NOR task. Rats received 12 5-min exposures to two identical objects and then received either bilateral lesions of the hippocampus or sham surgery 1 d, 4 wk, or 8 wk after the final exposure. On a retention test 2 wk after surgery, the 1-d and 4-wk hippocampal lesion groups exhibited impaired object recognition memory. In contrast, the 8-wk hippocampal lesion group performed similarly to controls, and both groups exhibited a preference for the novel object. These same rats were then given four postoperative tests using unique object pairs and a 3-h delay between the exposure phase and the test phase. Hippocampal lesions produced moderate and reliable memory impairment. The results suggest that the hippocampus is important for object recognition memory.
Environmental enrichment (EE) increases dentate gyrus (DG) neurogenesis and brain-derived neurotrophic factor ( BDNF) levels. However, running is considered an element of EE. To dissociate effects of physical activity and enrichment on hippocampal neurogenesis and BDNF levels, young female C57BI/6 mice were housed under control, running, enrichment, or enrichment plus running conditions, and injected with bromodeoxyuridine. Cell genesis was assessed after 12 d and differentiation was analyzed 1 mo later. In addition, locomotor activity in the open field and hippocampal mature BDNF peptide levels were measured. Open-field adaptation was improved in all groups, compared to controls, but more so with running. New cell proliferation, survival, neuron number, and neurotrophin levels were enhanced only when running was accessible. We conclude that exercise is the critical factor mediating increased BDNF levels and adult hippocampal neurogenesis.
Early studies of memory-impaired patients with medial temporal lobe (MTL) damage led to the view that the hippocampus and related MTL structures are involved in the formation of long-term memory and that immediate memory and working memory are independent of these structures. This traditional idea has recently been revisited. Impaired performance in patients with MTL lesions on tasks with short retention intervals, or no retention interval, and neuroimaging findings with similar tasks have been interpreted to mean that the MTL is sometimes needed for working memory and possibly even for visual perception itself. We present a reappraisal of this interpretation. Our main conclusion is that, if the material to be learned exceeds working memory capacity, if the material is difficult to rehearse, or if attention is diverted, performance depends on long-term memory even when the retention interval is brief. This fundamental notion is better captured by the terms subspan memory and supraspan memory than by the terms short-term memory and long-term memory. We propose methods for determining when performance on short-delay tasks must depend on long-term (supraspan) memory and suggest that MTL lesions impair performance only when immediate memory and working memory are insufficient to support performance. In neuroimaging studies, MTL activity during encoding is influenced by the memory load and correlates positively with long-term retention of the material that was presented. The most parsimonious and consistent interpretation of all the data is that subspan memoranda are supported by immediate memory and working memory and are independent of the MTL.
We previously demonstrated that disrupting reconsolidation by pharmacological manipulations "deleted" the emotional expression of a fear memory in humans. If we are to target reconsolidation in patients with anxiety disorders, the disruption of reconsolidation should produce content-limited modifications. At the same time, the fear-erasing effects should not be restricted to the feared cue itself considering that fear generalization is a main characteristic of anxiety disorders. In Experiment I and Experiment Ib, we addressed these issues using a within-subject differential startle fear conditioning paradigm and a test of fear generalization. In Experiment II, we tested whether a behavioral approach targeting the reconsolidation through extinction learning was also effective in weakening the original fear memory. A behavioral procedure is evidently preferred over drug manipulations provided that similar effects can be obtained. Here, the extinction procedure subsequent to retrieval did not "erase" the emotional expression of the fear memory as the retrieval techniques (i.e., reminder shocks and reacquisition) unveiled a return of the startle fear response to the fear-relevant stimuli. In contrast, β-adrenergic receptor blockade during reconsolidation selectively deleted the fear-arousing aspects of the memory (i.e., startle fear response) along with its category-related information. The pharmacological manipulation rendered the core memory trace too weak to observe fear generalization after successful reacquisition. Hence, relearning following the disruption of reconsolidation seems to be qualitatively different from initial learning. Our findings demonstrate that disrupting reconsolidation by pharmacological manipulations, although selective, undermines the generalization of fear, a key feature of anxiety disorders.
Producing and maintaining distinct (orthogonal) neural representations for similar events is critical to avoiding interference in long-term memory. Recently, our laboratory provided the first evidence for separation-like signals in the human CA3/dentate. Here, we extended this by parametrically varying the change in input (similarity) while monitoring CA1 and CA3/dentate for separation and completion-like signals using high-resolution fMRI. In the CA1, activity varied in a graded fashion in response to increases in the change in input. In contrast, the CA3/dentate showed a stepwise transfer function that was highly sensitive to small changes in input.
Extinction of conditioned fear is an important model both of inhibitory learning and of behavior therapy for human anxiety disorders. Like other forms of learning, extinction learning is long-lasting and depends on regulated gene expression. Epigenetic mechanisms make an important contribution to persistent changes in gene expression; therefore, in these studies, we have investigated whether epigenetic regulation of gene expression contributes to fear extinction. Since brain-derived neurotrophic factor ( BDNF) is crucial for synaptic plasticity and for the maintenance of long-term memory, we examined histone modifications around two BDNF gene promoters after extinction of cued fear, as potential targets of learning-induced epigenetic regulation of gene expression. Valproic acid ( VPA), used for some time as an anticonvulsant and a mood stabilizer, modulates the expression of BDNF, and is a histone deacetylase ( HDAC) inhibitor. Here, we report that extinction of conditioned fear is accompanied by a significant increase in histone H4 acetylation around the BDNF P4 gene promoter and increases in BDNF exon I and IV mRNA expression in prefrontal cortex, that VPA enhances long-term memory for extinction because of its HDAC inhibitor effects, and that VPA potentiates the effect of weak extinction training on histone H4 acetylation around both the BDNF P1 and P4 gene promoters and on BDNF exon IV mRNA expression. These results suggest a relationship between histone H4 modification, epigenetic regulation of BDNF gene expression, and long-term memory for extinction of conditioned fear. In addition, they suggest that HDAC inhibitors may become a useful pharmacological adjunct to psychotherapy for human anxiety disorders.
Recent studies using lesion, infusion, and unit-recording techniques suggest that the infralimbic (IL) subregion of medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) is necessary for the inhibition of conditioned fear following extinction. Brief microstimulation of IL paired with conditioned tones, designed to mimic neuronal tone responses, reduces the expression of conditioned fear to the tone. In the present study we used microstimulation to investigate the role of additional mPFC subregions: the prelimbic (PL), dorsal anterior cingulate (ACd), and medial precentral (PrCm) cortices in the expression and extinction of conditioned fear. These are tone-responsive areas that have been implicated in both acquisition and extinction of conditioned fear. In contrast to IL, microstimulation of PL increased the expression of conditioned fear and prevented extinction. Microstimulation of ACd and PrCm had no effect. Under low-footshock conditions (to avoid ceiling levels of freezing), microstimulation of PL and IL had opposite effects, respectively increasing and decreasing freezing to the conditioned tone. We suggest that PL excites amygdala output and IL inhibits amygdala output, providing a mechanism for bidirectional modulation of fear expression.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) represent a class of small regulatory noncoding RNAs similar to 22 bp in length that mediate post-transcriptional silencing of gene expression via the recognition of specific sequences in target messenger (m) RNAs. The current body of literature suggests that miRNAs are fine-tuning regulators of gene expression profiles in a wide range of biological processes, from development to cancer. Many miRNAs are highly expressed in the adult nervous system in a spatially and temporally controlled manner in normal physiology, as well as in certain pathological conditions. These findings emphasize that gene regulation networks based on miRNA activities may be particularly important to brain function, and that perturbation of these networks may result in abnormal brain function. Indeed, miRNAs have been implicated in various aspects of dendrite remodeling and synaptic plasticity, as well as in experience-dependent adaptive changes of neural circuits in the postnatal developmental and adult brain. Recent advances in methods of next-generation sequencing, such as RNA-seq, offer the means to quantitatively evaluate the functions of miRNAs in a genome-wide manner in large cohorts of samples. These new technologies have already yielded valuable information and are expanding our understanding of miRNA-based mechanisms in higher-order brain processing, including learning and memory and cognition, as well as in neuropsychiatric disorders.
Psychologists and neurobiologists have a long-standing interest in understanding how the context surrounding the events of our lives is represented and how it influences our behavior. The hippocampal formation emerged very early as a major contributor to how context is represented and functions. There is a large literature examining its contribution that on the surface reveals an array of conflicting outcomes and controversy. This review reveals that these conflicts can be resolved by building Nadel and Willner's dual-process theory of context representations. Two general conclusions emerge: (1) There are two neural systems that can support context representations and functions-a neocortical system composed primarily of perirhinal and postrhinal cortices and a hippocampal system that includes perirhinal, postrhinal, entorhinal cortices, and the hippocampal formation. (2) These two systems are not equivalent-some context representations and functions are uniquely supported by the hippocampal system. These conclusions are discussed in the context of canonical ideas about the special properties of the hippocampal system that enable it to make unique contributions to memory.
Transcription of genes required for long-term memory not only involves transcription factors, but also enzymatic protein complexes that modify chromatin structure. Chromatin-modifying enzymes, such as the histone acetyltransferase (HAT) CREB (cyclic-AMP response element binding) binding protein (CBP), are pivotal for the transcriptional regulation required for long-term memory. Several studies have shown that CBP and histone acetylation are necessary for hippocampus-dependent long-term memory and hippocampal long-term potentiation (LTP). Importantly, every genetically modified Cbp mutant mouse exhibits long-term memory impairments in object recognition. However, the role of the hippocampus in object recognition is controversial. To better understand how chromatin-modifying enzymes modulate long-term memory for object recognition, we first examined the role of the hippocampus in retrieval of long-term memory for object recognition or object location. Muscimol inactivation of the dorsal hippocampus prior to retrieval had no effect on long-term memory for object recognition, but completely blocked long-term memory for object location. This was consistent with experiments showing that muscimol inactivation of the hippocampus had no effect on long-term memory for the object itself, supporting the idea that the hippocampus encodes spatial information about an object (such as location or context), whereas cortical areas (such as the perirhinal or insular cortex) encode information about the object itself. Using location-dependent object recognition tasks that engage the hippocampus, we demonstrate that CBP is essential for the modulation of long-term memory via HDAC inhibition. Together, these results indicate that HDAC inhibition modulates memory in the hippocampus via CBP and that different brain regions utilize different chromatin-modifying enzymes to regulate learning and memory.
Rats were subjected to one or two cycles of context fear conditioning and extinction to study the roles of the prelimbic cortex (PL) and infralimbic cortex (IL) in learning and relearning to inhibit fear responses. Inactivation of the PL depressed fear responses across the first or second extinction but did not impair learning or relearning fear inhibition (experiment 1). Inactivation of the IL did not affect inhibition across the first extinction but disrupted its long-term retention. Inactivation of the IL impaired inhibition across the second extinction, and inactivation before or after this extinction impaired long-term retention (experiments 2 and 3). Inactivation of the IL before the retention test restored extinguished fear responses (experiment 4). These results show for the first time that neuronal activity in the PL is involved in the expression of fear responses but not in the learning that underlies long-term fear inhibition. They also confirm that the IL is involved in this inhibitory learning: Specifically, they show that the IL is critical for consolidation and retrieval of this inhibitory learning. The role of the IL is discussed in terms of a contemporary neural model of fear extinction.
Although disrupting reconsolidation is promising in targeting emotional memories, the conditions under which memory becomes labile are still unclear. The current study showed that post-retrieval changes in expectancy as an index for prediction error may serve as a read-out for the underlying processes engaged by memory reactivation. Minor environmental changes define whether retrieval induces memory reconsolidation or the initiation of a new memory trace even before fear extinction can be observed.
After extinction of conditioned fear, memory for the conditioning and extinction experiences becomes context dependent. Fear is suppressed in the extinction context, but renews in other contexts. This study characterizes the neural circuitry underlying the context-dependent retrieval of extinguished fear memories using c-Fos immunohistochemistry. After fear conditioning and extinction to an auditory conditioned stimulus (CS), rats were presented with the extinguished CS in either the extinction context or a second context, and then sacrificed. Presentation of the CS in the extinction context yielded low levels of conditioned freezing and induced c-Fos expression in the infralimbic division of the medial prefrontal cortex, the intercalated nuclei of the amygdala, and the dentate gyrus (DG). In contrast, presentation of the CS outside of the extinction context yielded high levels of conditioned freezing and induced c-Fos expression in the prelimbic division of the medial prefrontal cortex, the lateral and basolateral nuclei of the amygdala, and the medial division of the central nucleus of the amygdala. Hippocampal areas CA1 and CA3 exhibited c-Fos expression when the CS was presented in either context. These data suggest that the context specificity of extinction is mediated by prefrontal modulation of amygdala activity, and that the hippocampus has a fundamental role in contextual memory retrieval.
Recent demonstrations of "reconsolidation" suggest that memories can be modified when they are reactivated. Reconsolidation has been observed in human procedural memory and in implicit memory in infants. This study asks whether episodic memory undergoes reconsolidation. College students learned a list of objects on Day 1. On Day 2, they received a reminder or not, and then learned a second list. Memory for List 1 was tested immediately on Day 2 (Experiment 2) or on Day 3 (Experiment 1). Although the reminder did not moderate the number of items recalled from List 1 on either day, subjects who received a reminder incorrectly intermixed items from the second list when recalling List 1 on Day 3. Experiment 2 showed that this effect does not occur immediately and thus is time-dependent. The reminder did not affect memory for List 2 on Day 3 (Experiment 3), demonstrating that modification occurred only for the original memory (List 1). The study demonstrates the crucial role of reminders for the modification of episodic memory, that reconsolidation of episodic memory is time-dependent, and, in contrast to previous reconsolidation findings, that reconsolidation is also a constructive process, one that supports the incorporation of new information in memory.
The nervous system and the immune system are two main regulators of homeostasis in the body. Communication between them ensures normal functioning of the organism. Immune cells and molecules are required for sculpting the circuitry and determining the activity of the nervous system. Within the parenchyma of the central nervous system (CNS), microglia constantly monitor synapses and participate in their pruning during development and possibly also throughout life. Classical inflammatory cytokines, such as interleukin (IL)-1 beta and tumor necrosis factor (TNF), are released during neuronal activity and play a crucial role in regulating the strength of synaptic transmission. Systemically, proper functioning of the immune system is critical for maintaining normal nervous system function. Disruption of the immune system functioning leads to impairments in cognition and in neurogenesis. In this review we provide examples of the communication between the nervous and the immune systems in the interest of normal CNS development and function.
Although the relationship between stress intensity and memory function is generally believed to follow an inverted-U-shaped curve, strikingly this phenomenon has not been demonstrated under the same experimental conditions. We investigated this phenomenon for rats' performance in a hippocampus-dependent learning task, the radial arm water maze (RAWM). Variations in stress intensity were induced using different water temperatures (25C, 19C, and 16C), which elicited increased plasma corticosterone levels. During spatial training over three consecutive days, an inverted-U shape was found, with animals trained at 19C making fewer errors than animals trained at either higher (16C) or lower (25C) stress conditions. Interestingly, this function was already observed by the last trial of day 1 and maintained on the first day trial of day 2. A long-term recall probe test administered under equal temperature conditions (20C) revealed differences in performance according to the animals' former training conditions; i.e., platform searching for rats trained at 25C was less accurate than for rats trained at either 16C or 19C. In reversal learning, groups trained at both 19C and 25C showed better performance than the 16C group. We also found an interaction between anxiety and exploration traits on how individuals were affected by stressors during spatial learning. In summary, our findings confirm, for the first time, the existence of an inverted-U-shape memory function according to stressor intensity during the early learning and memory phases in a hippocampus-dependent task, and indicate the existence of individual differences related to personality-like profiles for performance at either high or low stress conditions.