Concept: Dentate gyrus
A specific memory is thought to be encoded by a sparse population of neurons. These neurons can be tagged during learning for subsequent identification and manipulation. Moreover, their ablation or inactivation results in reduced memory expression, suggesting their necessity in mnemonic processes. However, the question of sufficiency remains: it is unclear whether it is possible to elicit the behavioural output of a specific memory by directly activating a population of neurons that was active during learning. Here we show in mice that optogenetic reactivation of hippocampal neurons activated during fear conditioning is sufficient to induce freezing behaviour. We labelled a population of hippocampal dentate gyrus neurons activated during fear learning with channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2) and later optically reactivated these neurons in a different context. The mice showed increased freezing only upon light stimulation, indicating light-induced fear memory recall. This freezing was not detected in non-fear-conditioned mice expressing ChR2 in a similar proportion of cells, nor in fear-conditioned mice with cells labelled by enhanced yellow fluorescent protein instead of ChR2. Finally, activation of cells labelled in a context not associated with fear did not evoke freezing in mice that were previously fear conditioned in a different context, suggesting that light-induced fear memory recall is context specific. Together, our findings indicate that activating a sparse but specific ensemble of hippocampal neurons that contribute to a memory engram is sufficient for the recall of that memory. Moreover, our experimental approach offers a general method of mapping cellular populations bearing memory engrams.
Down syndrome (DS) patients exhibit abnormalities of hippocampal-dependent explicit memory, a feature that is replicated in relevant mouse models of the disease. Adult hippocampal neurogenesis, which is impaired in DS and other neuropsychiatric diseases, plays a key role in hippocampal circuit plasticity and has been implicated in learning and memory. However, it remains unknown whether increasing adult neurogenesis improves hippocampal plasticity and behavioral performance in the multifactorial context of DS. We report that, in the Ts65Dn mouse model of DS, chronic administration of lithium, a clinically used mood stabilizer, promoted the proliferation of neuronal precursor cells through the pharmacological activation of the Wnt/β-catenin pathway and restored adult neurogenesis in the hippocampal dentate gyrus (DG) to physiological levels. The restoration of adult neurogenesis completely rescued the synaptic plasticity of newborn neurons in the DG and led to the full recovery of behavioral performance in fear conditioning, object location, and novel object recognition tests. These findings indicate that reestablishing a functional population of hippocampal newborn neurons in adult DS mice rescues hippocampal plasticity and memory and implicate adult neurogenesis as a promising therapeutic target to alleviate cognitive deficits in DS patients.
The transcription factor gene Sox2 is expressed in embryonic neural stem/progenitor cells and previous evidence suggests that it is also expressed in adult neural stem cells. To target Sox2-expressing neural stem/progenitor cells in a temporal manner, we generated a bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC) transgenic mouse line, in which an inducible form of Cre, CreER™, is expressed under Sox2 regulatory elements. Inducible Cre activity in these mice was characterized using floxed reporters. During development, the Sox2-CreER transgenic mice show inducible Cre activity specifically in CNS stem/progenitor cells, making them a useful tool to regulate the expression of floxed genes temporally in embryonic neural stem/progenitor cells. In the adult, we examined the cell-specific expression of Sox2 and performed long-term lineage tracing. Four months after the transient induction of Cre activity, recombined GFAP+ stem-like cells and DCX+ neuroblasts were still abundant in the neurogenic regions including the subventricular zone (SVZ), rostral migratory stream (RMS), and subgranular zone (SGZ) of the dentate gyrus. These results provide definitive in vivo evidence that Sox2 is expressed in neural stem cells (NSC) in both the SVZ and SGZ that are capable of self-renewal and long-term neurogenesis. Therefore, Sox2-CreER mice should be useful in targeting floxed genes in adult neural stem cells.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is an efficient and relatively fast acting treatment for depression. However, one severe side effect of the treatment is retrograde amnesia, which in certain cases can be long-term. The mechanisms behind the antidepressant effect and the amnesia are not well understood. We hypothesized that ECT causes transient downregulation of key molecules needed to stabilize synaptic structure and to prevent Ca2+ influx, and a simultaneous increase in neurotrophic factors, thus providing a short time window of increased structural synaptic plasticity. Here we followed regulation of NgR1, NgR3, LOTUS, BDNF, and AMPA subunits GluR1 and GluR2 flip and flop mRNA levels in hippocampus at 2, 4, 12, 24, and 72 hours after a single episode of induced electroconvulsive seizures (ECS) in rats. NgR1 and LOTUS mRNA levels were transiently downregulated in the dentate gyrus 2, 4, 12 and 4, 12, 24 h after ECS treatment, respectively. GluR2 flip, flop and GluR1 flop were downregulated at 4 h. GluR2 flip remained downregulated at 12 h. In contrast, BDNF, NgR3 and GluR1 flip mRNA levels were upregulated. Thus, ECS treatment induces a transient regulation of factors important for neuronal plasticity. Our data provide correlations between ECS treatment and molecular events compatible with the hypothesis that both effects and side effects of ECT may be caused by structural synaptic rearrangements.
Aging is associated with increased inflammation and reduced hippocampal neurogenesis, which may in turn contribute to cognitive impairment. Taurine is a free amino acid found in numerous diets, with anti-inflammatory properties. Although abundant in the young brain, the decrease in taurine concentration with age may underlie reduced neurogenesis. Here, we assessed the effect of taurine on hippocampal neurogenesis in middle-aged mice. We found that taurine increased cell proliferation in the dentate gyrus through the activation of quiescent stem cells, resulting in increased number of stem cells and intermediate neural progenitors. Taurine had a direct effect on stem/progenitor cells proliferation, as observed in vitro, and also reduced activated microglia. Furthermore, taurine increased the survival of newborn neurons, resulting in a net increase in adult neurogenesis. Together, these results show that taurine increases several steps of adult neurogenesis and support a beneficial role of taurine on hippocampal neurogenesis in the context of brain aging.
We recently reported isolation of viable rat amniotic fluid-derived stem (AFS) cells . Here, we tested the therapeutic benefits of AFS cells in a rodent model of ischemic stroke. Adult male Sprague-Dawley rats received a 60-minute middle cerebral artery occlusion (MCAo). Thirty-five days later, animals exhibiting significant motor deficits received intravenous transplants of rat AFS cells or vehicle. At days 60-63 post-MCAo, significant recovery of motor and cognitive function was seen in stroke animals transplanted with AFS cells compared to vehicle-infused stroke animals. Infarct volume, as revealed by hematoxylin and eosin (H&E) staining, was significantly reduced, coupled with significant increments in the cell proliferation marker, Ki67, and the neuronal marker, MAP2, in the dentate gyrus (DG)  and the subventricular zone (SVZ) of AFS cell-transplanted stroke animals compared to vehicle-infused stroke animals. A significantly higher number of double-labeled Ki67/MAP2-positive cells and a similar trend towards increased Ki67/MAP2 double-labeling were observed in the DG and SVZ of AFS cell-transplanted stroke animals, respectively, compared to vehicle-infused stroke animals. This study reports the therapeutic potential of AFS cell transplantation in stroke animals, possibly via enhancement of endogenous repair mechanisms.
The dentate gyrus (DG) is a region in the hippocampal formation whose function declines in association with human aging and is therefore considered to be a possible source of age-related memory decline. Causal evidence is needed, however, to show that DG-associated memory decline in otherwise healthy elders can be improved by interventions that enhance DG function. We addressed this issue by first using a high-resolution variant of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to map the precise site of age-related DG dysfunction and to develop a cognitive task whose function localized to this anatomical site. Then, in a controlled randomized trial, we applied these tools to study healthy 50-69-year-old subjects who consumed either a high or low cocoa-containing diet for 3 months. A high-flavanol intervention was found to enhance DG function, as measured by fMRI and by cognitive testing. Our findings establish that DG dysfunction is a driver of age-related cognitive decline and suggest non-pharmacological means for its amelioration.
Memories can be unreliable. We created a false memory in mice by optogenetically manipulating memory engram-bearing cells in the hippocampus. Dentate gyrus (DG) or CA1 neurons activated by exposure to a particular context were labeled with channelrhodopsin-2. These neurons were later optically reactivated during fear conditioning in a different context. The DG experimental group showed increased freezing in the original context, in which a foot shock was never delivered. The recall of this false memory was context-specific, activated similar downstream regions engaged during natural fear memory recall, and was also capable of driving an active fear response. Our data demonstrate that it is possible to generate an internally represented and behaviorally expressed fear memory via artificial means.
Anticipating the future is a key motif of the brain, possibly supported by mental simulation of upcoming events. Rodent single-cell recordings suggest the ability of spatially tuned cells to represent subsequent locations. Grid-like representations have been observed in the human entorhinal cortex during virtual and imagined navigation. However, hitherto it remains unknown if grid-like representations contribute to mental simulation in the absence of imagined movement. Participants imagined directions between building locations in a large-scale virtual-reality city while undergoing fMRI without re-exposure to the environment. Using multi-voxel pattern analysis, we provide evidence for representations of absolute imagined direction at a resolution of 30° in the parahippocampal gyrus, consistent with the head-direction system. Furthermore, we capitalize on the six-fold rotational symmetry of grid-cell firing to demonstrate a 60° periodic pattern-similarity structure in the entorhinal cortex. Our findings imply a role of the entorhinal grid-system in mental simulation and future thinking beyond spatial navigation.
Oxytocin receptor (Oxtr) signaling in neural circuits mediating discrimination of social stimuli and affiliation or avoidance behavior is thought to guide social recognition. Remarkably, the physiological functions of Oxtrs in the hippocampus are not known. Here we demonstrate using genetic and pharmacological approaches that Oxtrs in the anterior dentate gyrus (aDG) and anterior CA2/CA3 (aCA2/CA3) of mice are necessary for discrimination of social, but not non-social, stimuli. Further, Oxtrs in aCA2/CA3 neurons recruit a population-based coding mechanism to mediate social stimuli discrimination. Optogenetic terminal-specific attenuation revealed a critical role for aCA2/CA3 outputs to posterior CA1 for discrimination of social stimuli. In contrast, aCA2/CA3 projections to aCA1 mediate discrimination of non-social stimuli. These studies identify a role for an aDG-CA2/CA3 axis of Oxtr expressing cells in discrimination of social stimuli and delineate a pathway relaying social memory computations in the anterior hippocampus to the posterior hippocampus to guide social recognition.