Concept: Granule cell
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.
A CAPN1 missense mutation in Parson Russell Terrier dogs is associated with spinocerebellar ataxia. We now report that homozygous or heterozygous CAPN1-null mutations in humans result in cerebellar ataxia and limb spasticity in four independent pedigrees. Calpain-1 knockout (KO) mice also exhibit a mild form of ataxia due to abnormal cerebellar development, including enhanced neuronal apoptosis, decreased number of cerebellar granule cells, and altered synaptic transmission. Enhanced apoptosis is due to absence of calpain-1-mediated cleavage of PH domain and leucine-rich repeat protein phosphatase 1 (PHLPP1), which results in inhibition of the Akt pro-survival pathway in developing granule cells. Injection of neonatal mice with the indirect Akt activator, bisperoxovanadium, or crossing calpain-1 KO mice with PHLPP1 KO mice prevented increased postnatal cerebellar granule cell apoptosis and restored granule cell density and motor coordination in adult mice. Thus, mutations in CAPN1 are an additional cause of ataxia in mammals, including humans.
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 hippocampus is critical for the acquisition and retrieval of episodic and contextual memories. Lesions of the dentate gyrus, a principal input of the hippocampus, block memory acquisition, but it remains unclear whether this region also plays a role in memory retrieval. Here we combine cell-type specific neural inhibition with electrophysiological measurements of learning-associated plasticity in behaving mice to demonstrate that dentate gyrus granule cells are not required for memory retrieval, but instead have an unexpected role in memory maintenance. Furthermore, we demonstrate the translational potential of our findings by showing that pharmacological activation of an endogenous inhibitory receptor expressed selectively in dentate gyrus granule cells can induce a rapid loss of hippocampal memory. These findings open a new avenue for the targeted erasure of episodic and contextual memories.
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.
The valence of memories is malleable because of their intrinsic reconstructive property. This property of memory has been used clinically to treat maladaptive behaviours. However, the neuronal mechanisms and brain circuits that enable the switching of the valence of memories remain largely unknown. Here we investigated these mechanisms by applying the recently developed memory engram cell- manipulation technique. We labelled with channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2) a population of cells in either the dorsal dentate gyrus (DG) of the hippocampus or the basolateral complex of the amygdala (BLA) that were specifically activated during contextual fear or reward conditioning. Both groups of fear-conditioned mice displayed aversive light-dependent responses in an optogenetic place avoidance test, whereas both DG- and BLA-labelled mice that underwent reward conditioning exhibited an appetitive response in an optogenetic place preference test. Next, in an attempt to reverse the valence of memory within a subject, mice whose DG or BLA engram had initially been labelled by contextual fear or reward conditioning were subjected to a second conditioning of the opposite valence while their original DG or BLA engram was reactivated by blue light. Subsequent optogenetic place avoidance and preference tests revealed that although the DG-engram group displayed a response indicating a switch of the memory valence, the BLA-engram group did not. This switch was also evident at the cellular level by a change in functional connectivity between DG engram-bearing cells and BLA engram-bearing cells. Thus, we found that in the DG, the neurons carrying the memory engram of a given neutral context have plasticity such that the valence of a conditioned response evoked by their reactivation can be reversed by re-associating this contextual memory engram with a new unconditioned stimulus of an opposite valence. Our present work provides new insight into the functional neural circuits underlying the malleability of emotional memory.
Adult-born granule cells (GCs), a minor population of cells in the hippocampal dentate gyrus, are highly active during the first few weeks after functional integration into the neuronal network, distinguishing them from less active, older adult-born GCs and the major population of dentate GCs generated developmentally. To ascertain whether young and old GCs perform distinct memory functions, we created a transgenic mouse in which output of old GCs was specifically inhibited while leaving a substantial portion of young GCs intact. These mice exhibited enhanced or normal pattern separation between similar contexts, which was reduced following ablation of young GCs. Furthermore, these mutant mice exhibited deficits in rapid pattern completion. Therefore, pattern separation requires adult-born young GCs but not old GCs, and older GCs contribute to the rapid recall by pattern completion. Our data suggest that as adult-born GCs age, their function switches from pattern separation to rapid pattern completion.
Throughout life, new neurons are continuously added to the dentate gyrus. As this continuous addition remodels hippocampal circuits, computational models predict that neurogenesis leads to degradation or forgetting of established memories. Consistent with this, increasing neurogenesis after the formation of a memory was sufficient to induce forgetting in adult mice. By contrast, during infancy, when hippocampal neurogenesis levels are high and freshly generated memories tend to be rapidly forgotten (infantile amnesia), decreasing neurogenesis after memory formation mitigated forgetting. In precocial species, including guinea pigs and degus, most granule cells are generated prenatally. Consistent with reduced levels of postnatal hippocampal neurogenesis, infant guinea pigs and degus did not exhibit forgetting. However, increasing neurogenesis after memory formation induced infantile amnesia in these species.
Accumulating evidence suggests that global depletion of adult hippocampal neurogenesis influences its function and that the timing of the depletion affects the deficits. However, the behavioral roles of adult-born neurons during their establishment of projections to CA3 pyramidal neurons remain largely unknown. We used a combination of retroviral and optogenetic approaches to birth date and reversibly control a group of adult-born neurons in adult mice. Adult-born neurons formed functional synapses on CA3 pyramidal neurons as early as 2 weeks after birth, and this projection to the CA3 area became stable by 4 weeks in age. Newborn neurons at this age were more plastic than neurons at other stages. Notably, we found that reversibly silencing this cohort of ∼4-week-old cells after training, but not cells of other ages, substantially disrupted retrieval of hippocampal memory. Our results identify a restricted time window for adult-born neurons essential in hippocampal memory retrieval.
Down syndrome DS is a genetic pathology characterized by brain hypotrophy and severe cognitive impairment. Although defective neurogenesis is an important determinant of mental disability, a severe dendritic pathology appears to be an equally important factor. A previous study showed that fluoxetine, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, fully restores neurogenesis in the Ts65Dn mouse model of DS. The goal of the current study was to establish whether fluoxetine also restores dendritic development. In mice aged 45 days, treated with fluoxetine in the postnatal period P3-P15, we examined the dendritic arbor of the granule cells of the dentate gyrus (DG). The granule cells of trisomic mice had a severely hypotrophic dendritic arbor, fewer spines and a reduced innervation than euploid mice. Treatment with fluoxetine fully restored all these defects. In Ts65Dn mice, we found reduced levels of serotonin that were restored by treatment. Results show that a pharmacotherapy with fluoxetine is able to rescue not only the number of granule neurons but also their “quality” in terms of correct maturation and connectivity. These findings strongly suggest that fluoxetine may be a drug of choice for the improvement of the major defects in the DS brain and, possibly, of mental retardation.