Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

John H. Byrne, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Leonard J. Cleary, Ph.D.

Committee Member

William P. Dubinsky, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Roger Janz, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jack C. Waymire, Ph.D.


Enhanced expression of the presynaptic protein synapsin has been correlated with certain forms of long-term plasticity and learning and memory. However, the regulation and requirement for enhanced synapsin expression in long-term memory remains unknown. In the present study the technical advantages of the marine mollusc Aplysia were exploited in order to address this issue. In Aplysia, learning-induced enhancement in synaptic strength is modulated by serotonin (5-HT) and treatment with 5-HT in vitro of the sensorimotor synapse induces long-term facilitation (LTF) of synaptic transmission, which lasts for days, as well as the formation of new connections between the sensory and motor neuron.

Results from immunofluorescence analysis indicated that 5-HT treatment upregulates synapsin protein levels within sensory neuron varicosities, the presumed site of neurotransmitter release. To investigate the mechanisms underlying increased synapsin expression, the promoter region of the Aplysia synapsin gene was cloned and a cAMP response element (CRE) was identified, raising the possibility that the transcriptional activator cAMP response element-binding protein-1 (CREB1) mediates the 5-HT-induced regulation of synapsin. Results from Chromatin Immunoprecipitation (ChIP) assays indicated that 5-HT treatment enhanced association of CREB1 surrounding the CRE site in the synapsin promoter and led to increased acetylation of histones H3 and H4 and decreased association of histone deacetylase 5 surrounding the CRE site in the synapsin promoter, a sign of transcriptional activation. In addition, sensory neurons injected with an enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) reporter vector driven by the synapsin promoter exhibited a significant increase in EGFP expression following treatment with 5-HT. These results suggest that synapsin expression is regulated by 5-HT in part through transcriptional activation of the synapsin gene and through CREB1 association with the synapsin promoter. Furthermore, RNA interference that blocks 5-HT-induced elevation of synapsin expression also blocked long-term synaptic facilitation. These results indicate that 5-HT-induced regulation of synapsin is necessary for LTF and that synapsin is part of the cascade of synaptic events involved in the consolidation of memory.


CREB, gene regulation, plasticity, synaptic vesicle protein, memory



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