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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.

Concepts: Psychology, Memory, Hippocampus, Dentate gyrus, Neurogenesis, Granule cell, Entorhinal cortex, Channelrhodopsin


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.

Concepts: DNA, Neuron, Mutation, Enzyme, Cerebellum, Granule cell, Point mutation, Jack Russell Terrier


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.

Concepts: Psychology, Neuron, Memory, Hippocampus, Dentate gyrus, Neurogenesis, Granule cell, Neuroplasticity


The skin senses external environment, including ultraviolet light (UV). Hippocampus is a brain region that is responsible for memory and emotion. However, changes in hippocampus by UV irradiation to the skin have not been studied. In this study, after 2 weeks of UV irradiation to the mouse skin, we examined molecular changes related to cognitive functions in the hippocampus and activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. UV exposure to the skin decreased doublecortin-positive immature neurons and synaptic proteins, including N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor 2 A and postsynaptic density protein-95, in the hippocampus. Moreover, we observed that UV irradiation to the skin down-regulated brain-derived neurotrophic factor expression and ERK signaling in the hippocampus, which are known to modulate neurogenesis and synaptic plasticity. The cutaneous and central HPA axes were activated by UV, which resulted in significant increases in serum levels of corticosterone. Subsequently, UV irradiation to the skin activated the glucocorticoid-signaling pathway in the hippocampal dentate gyrus. Interestingly, after 6 weeks of UV irradiation, mice showed depression-like behavior in the tail suspension test. Taken together, our data suggest that repeated UV exposure through the skin may negatively affect hippocampal neurogenesis and synaptic plasticity along with HPA axis activation.

Concepts: Ultraviolet, Memory, Cerebrum, Hippocampus, Neurogenesis, Granule cell, Skin, Long-term potentiation


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.

Concepts: Memory, Cerebrum, Hippocampus, Neurogenesis, Granule cell, Episodic memory, Amnesia, Semantic memory


New neurons continue to be generated in the subgranular zone of the dentate gyrus of the adult mammalian hippocampus. This process has been linked to learning and memory, stress and exercise, and is thought to be altered in neurological disease. In humans, some studies have suggested that hundreds of new neurons are added to the adult dentate gyrus every day, whereas other studies find many fewer putative new neurons. Despite these discrepancies, it is generally believed that the adult human hippocampus continues to generate new neurons. Here we show that a defined population of progenitor cells does not coalesce in the subgranular zone during human fetal or postnatal development. We also find that the number of proliferating progenitors and young neurons in the dentate gyrus declines sharply during the first year of life and only a few isolated young neurons are observed by 7 and 13 years of age. In adult patients with epilepsy and healthy adults (18-77 years; n = 17 post-mortem samples from controls; n = 12 surgical resection samples from patients with epilepsy), young neurons were not detected in the dentate gyrus. In the monkey (Macaca mulatta) hippocampus, proliferation of neurons in the subgranular zone was found in early postnatal life, but this diminished during juvenile development as neurogenesis decreased. We conclude that recruitment of young neurons to the primate hippocampus decreases rapidly during the first years of life, and that neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus does not continue, or is extremely rare, in adult humans. The early decline in hippocampal neurogenesis raises questions about how the function of the dentate gyrus differs between humans and other species in which adult hippocampal neurogenesis is preserved.

Concepts: Human, Neurology, Cerebrum, Dentate gyrus, Neurogenesis, Granule cell, Primate, Entorhinal cortex


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.

Concepts: Amygdala, Memory, Dentate gyrus, Neurogenesis, Granule cell, Fear, Amnesia, Entorhinal cortex


New neurons are continually generated from the resident populations of precursor cells in selective niches of the adult mammalian brain such as the hippocampal dentate gyrus and the olfactory bulb. However, whether such cells are present in the adult amygdala, and their neurogenic capacity, is not known. Using the neurosphere assay, we demonstrate that a small number of precursor cells, the majority of which express Achaete-scute complex homolog 1 (Ascl1), are present in the basolateral amygdala (BLA) of the adult mouse. Using neuron-specific Thy1-YFP transgenic mice, we show that YFP+ cells in BLA-derived neurospheres have a neuronal morphology, co-express the neuronal marker βIII-tubulin, and generate action potentials, confirming their neuronal phenotype. In vivo, we demonstrate the presence of newly generated BrdU-labeled cells in the adult BLA, and show that a proportion of these cells co-express the immature neuronal marker doublecortin (DCX). Furthermore, we reveal that a significant proportion of GFP+ neurons (~23%) in the BLA are newly generated (BrdU+) in DCX-GFP mice, and using whole-cell recordings in acute slices we demonstrate that the GFP+ cells display electrophysiological properties that are characteristic of interneurons. Using retrovirus-GFP labeling as well as the Ascl1(CreERT2) mouse line, we further confirm that the precursor cells within the BLA give rise to mature and functional interneurons that persist in the BLA for at least 8 weeks after their birth. Contextual fear conditioning has no effect on the number of neurospheres or BrdU-labeled cells in the BLA, but produces an increase in hippocampal cell proliferation. These results demonstrate that neurogenic precursor cells are present in the adult BLA, and generate functional interneurons, but also show that their activity is not regulated by an amygdala-dependent learning paradigm.Molecular Psychiatry advance online publication, 15 August 2017; doi:10.1038/mp.2017.134.

Concepts: Neuron, Amygdala, Brain, Action potential, Cerebrum, Hippocampus, Neurogenesis, Granule cell


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.

Concepts: Psychology, Neuroscience, Memory, Hippocampus, Neurogenesis, Granule cell, Classical conditioning, Fear conditioning


Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most commonly used class of antidepressant drugs, but the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which their therapeutic action is initiated are poorly understood. Here we show that serotonin 5-HT1B receptors in cholecystokinin (CCK) inhibitory interneurons of the mammalian dentate gyrus (DG) initiate the therapeutic response to antidepressants. In these neurons, 5-HT1B receptors are expressed presynaptically, and their activation inhibits GABA release. Inhibition of GABA release from CCK neurons disinhibits parvalbumin (PV) interneurons and, as a consequence, reduces the neuronal activity of the granule cells. Finally, inhibition of CCK neurons mimics the antidepressant behavioral effects of SSRIs, suggesting that these cells may represent a novel cellular target for the development of fast-acting antidepressant drugs.

Concepts: Neurogenesis, Granule cell, Serotonin, Antidepressant, Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, Sertraline, Tricyclic antidepressant, Fluoxetine