Role of entorhinal cortical plasticity in spatial and contextual memory

April Ethel Hebert, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


It is well accepted that the hippocampus (HIP) is important for spatial and contextual memories, however, it is not clear if the entorhinal cortex (EC), the main input/output structure for the hippocampus, is also necessary for memory storage. Damage to the EC in humans results in memory deficits. However, animal studies report conflicting results on whether the EC is necessary for spatial and contextual memory. Memory consolidation requires gene expression and protein synthesis, mediated by signaling cascades and transcription factors. Extracellular-signal regulated kinase (ERK) cascade activity is necessary for long-term memory in several tasks, including those that test spatial and contextual memory. In this work, we explore the role of ERK-mediated plasticity in the EC on spatial and contextual memory. To evaluate this role, post-training infusions of reversible pharmacological inhibitors specific for the ERK cascade that do not affect normal neuronal activity were targeted directly to the EC of awake, behaving animals. This technique provides spatial and temporal control over the inhibition of the ERK cascade without affecting performance during training or testing. Using the Morris water maze to study spatial memory, we found that ERK inhibition in the EC resulted in long-term memory deficits consistent with a loss of spatial strategy information. When animals were allowed to learn and consolidate a spatial strategy for solving the task prior to training and ERK inhibition, the deficit was alleviated. To study contextual memory, we trained animals in a cued fear-conditioning task and saw an increase in the activation of ERK in the EC 90 minutes following training. ERK inhibition in the EC over this time point, but not at an earlier time point, resulted in increased freezing to the context, but not to the tone, during a 48-hour retention test. In addition, animals froze maximally at the time the shock was given during training; similar to naïve animals receiving additional training, suggesting that ERK-mediated plasticity in the EC normally suppresses the temporal nature of the freezing response. These findings demonstrate that plasticity in the EC is necessary for both spatial and contextual memory, specifically in the retention of behavioral strategies.

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Recommended Citation

Hebert, April Ethel, "Role of entorhinal cortical plasticity in spatial and contextual memory" (2005). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3168436.