Concept: Long-term potentiation
Information in a computer is quantified by the number of bits that can be stored and recovered. An important question about the brain is how much information can be stored at a synapse through synaptic plasticity, which depends on the history of probabilistic synaptic activity. The strong correlation between size and efficacy of a synapse allowed us to estimate the variability of synaptic plasticity. In an EM reconstruction of hippocampal neuropil we found single axons making two or more synaptic contacts onto the same dendrites, having shared histories of presynaptic and postsynaptic activity. The spine heads and neck diameters, but not neck lengths, of these pairs were nearly identical in size. We found that there is a minimum of 26 distinguishable synaptic strengths, corresponding to storing 4.7 bits of information at each synapse. Because of stochastic variability of synaptic activation the observed precision requires averaging activity over several minutes.
Sleep plays a crucial role in the consolidation of newly acquired memories. Yet, how our brain selects the noteworthy information that will be consolidated during sleep remains largely unknown. Here we show that post-learning sleep favors the selectivity of long-term consolidation: when tested three months after initial encoding, the most important (i.e., rewarded, strongly encoded) memories are better retained, and also remembered with higher subjective confidence. Our brain imaging data reveals that the functional interplay between dopaminergic reward regions, the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus contributes to the integration of rewarded associative memories. We further show that sleep spindles strengthen memory representations based on reward values, suggesting a privileged replay of information yielding positive outcomes. These findings demonstrate that post-learning sleep determines the neural fate of motivationally-relevant memories and promotes a value-based stratification of long-term memory stores.
Inflammation impairs cognitive performance and is implicated in the progression of neurodegenerative disorders. Rodent studies demonstrated key roles for inflammatory mediators in many processes critical to memory, including long-term potentiation, synaptic plasticity, and neurogenesis. They also demonstrated functional impairment of medial temporal lobe (MTL) structures by systemic inflammation. However, human data to support this position are limited.
The association between human hippocampal structure and topographical memory was investigated in healthy adults (N = 30). Structural MR images were acquired, and voxel-based morphometry (VBM) was used to estimate local gray matter volume throughout the brain. A complementary automated mesh-based segmentation approach was used to independently isolate and measure specified structures including the hippocampus. Topographical memory was assessed using a version of the Four Mountains Task, a short test designed to target hippocampal spatial function. Each item requires subjects to briefly study a landscape scene before recognizing the depicted place from a novel viewpoint and under altered non-spatial conditions when presented amongst similar alternative scenes. Positive correlations between topographical memory performance and hippocampal volume were observed in both VBM and segmentation-based analyses. Score on the topographical memory task was also correlated with the volume of some subcortical structures, extra-hippocampal gray matter, and total brain volume, with the most robust and extensive covariation seen in circumscribed neocortical regions in the insula and anterior temporal lobes. Taken together with earlier findings, the results suggest that global variations in brain morphology affect the volume of the hippocampus and its specific contribution to topographical memory. We speculate that behavioral variation might arise directly through the impact of resource constraints on spatial representations in the hippocampal formation and its inputs, and perhaps indirectly through an increased reliance on non-allocentric strategies.
The repetition of experience is often necessary to establish long-lasting memory. However, the cellular mechanisms underlying this repetition-dependent consolidation of memory remain unclear. We previously observed in organotypic slice cultures of the rodent hippocampus that repeated inductions of long-term potentiation (LTP) led to a slowly developing long-lasting synaptic enhancement coupled with synaptogenesis. We also reported that repeated inductions of long-term depression (LTD) produced a long-lasting synaptic suppression coupled with synapse elimination. We proposed these phenomena as useful in vitro models for analyzing repetition-dependent consolidation. Here, we hypothesized that the enhancement and suppression are mediated by the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)-TrkB signaling pathway and the proBDNF-p75(NTR) pathway, respectively. When we masked the respective pathways, reversals of the enhancement and suppression resulted. These results suggest the alternative activation of the p75(NTR) pathway by BDNF under TrkB-masking conditions and of the TrkB pathway by proBDNF under p75(NTR)-masking conditions, thus supporting the aforementioned hypothesis.
Robust sleep/wake rhythms are important for health and cognitive function. Unfortunately, many people are living in an environment where their circadian system is challenged by inappropriate meal- or work-times. Here we scheduled food access to the sleep time and examined the impact on learning and memory in mice. Under these conditions, we demonstrate that the molecular clock in the master pacemaker, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), is unaltered while the molecular clock in the hippocampus is synchronized by the timing of food availability. This chronic circadian misalignment causes reduced hippocampal long term potentiation and total CREB expression. Importantly this mis-timed feeding resulted in dramatic deficits in hippocampal-dependent learning and memory. Our findings suggest that the timing of meals have far-reaching effects on hippocampal physiology and learned behaviour.
Dendritic spines represent the major postsynaptic input of excitatory synapses. Loss of spines and changes in their morphology correlate with cognitive impairment in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and are thought to occur early during pathology. Therapeutic intervention at a preclinical stage of AD to modify spine changes might thus be warranted. To follow the development and to potentially interfere with spine changes over time, we established a long term ex vivo model from organotypic cultures of the hippocampus from APP transgenic and control mice. The cultures exhibit spine loss in principal hippocampal neurons, which closely resembles the changes occurring in vivo, and spine morphology progressively changes from mushroom-shaped to stubby. We demonstrate that spine changes are completely reversed within few days after blocking amyloid-β (Aβ) production with the gamma-secretase inhibitor DAPT. We show that the microtubule disrupting drug nocodazole leads to spine loss similar to Aβ expressing cultures and suppresses DAPT-mediated spine recovery in slices from APP transgenic mice. Finally, we report that epothilone D (EpoD) at a subnanomolar concentration, which slightly stabilizes microtubules in model neurons, completely reverses Aβ-induced spine loss and increases thin spine density. Taken together the data indicate that Aβ causes spine changes by microtubule destabilization and that spine recovery requires microtubule polymerization. Moreover, our results suggest that a low, subtoxic concentration of EpoD is sufficient to reduce spine loss during the preclinical stage of AD.
Memory dysfunction is a key symptom of age-related dementia. Although recent studies have suggested positive effects of electrical stimulation for memory enhancement, its potential targets remain largely unknown. In this study, we hypothesized that spatially targeted deep brain stimulation of ventromedial prefrontal cortex enhanced memory functions in a middle-aged rat model. Our results show that acute stimulation enhanced the short-, but not the long-term memory in the novel-object recognition task. Interestingly, after chronic high-frequency stimulation, both the short- and long-term memories were robustly improved in the novel-object recognition test and Morris water-maze spatial task compared to sham. Our results also demonstrated that chronic ventromedial prefrontal cortex high-frequency stimulation upregulated neurogenesis-associated genes along with enhanced hippocampal cell proliferation. Importantly, these memory behaviors were strongly correlated with the hippocampal neurogenesis. Overall, these findings suggest that chronic ventromedial prefrontal cortex high-frequency stimulation may serve as a novel effective therapeutic target for dementia-related disorders.
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.
Place cell firing patterns reactivated during hippocampal sharp-wave ripples (SWRs) in rest or sleep are thought to induce synaptic plasticity and thereby promote the consolidation of recently encoded information. However, the capacity of reactivated spike trains to induce plasticity has not been directly tested. Here, we show that reactivated place cell firing patterns simultaneously recorded from CA3 and CA1 of rat dorsal hippocampus are able to induce long-term potentiation (LTP) at synapses between CA3 and CA1 cells but only if accompanied by SWR-associated synaptic activity and resulting dendritic depolarization. In addition, we show that the precise timing of coincident CA3 and CA1 place cell spikes in relation to SWR onset is critical for the induction of LTP and predictive of plasticity generated by reactivation. Our findings confirm an important role for SWRs in triggering and tuning plasticity processes that underlie memory consolidation in the hippocampus during rest or sleep.