Hippocampal dysregulation of neurofibromin-dependent pathways is associated with impaired spatial learning in engrailed 2 knock-out mice.
ABSTRACT: Genome-wide association studies indicated the homeobox-containing transcription factor Engrailed-2 (En2) as a candidate gene for autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Accordingly, En2 knock-out (En2(-/-)) mice show anatomical and behavioral "ASD-like" features, including decreased sociability and learning deficits. The molecular pathways underlying these deficits in En2(-/-) mice are not known. Deficits in signaling pathways involving neurofibromin and extracellular-regulated kinase (ERK) have been associated with impaired learning. Here we investigated the neurofibromin-ERK cascade in the hippocampus of wild-type (WT) and En2(-/-) mice before and after spatial learning testing. When compared with WT littermates, En2(-/-) mice showed impaired performance in the Morris water maze (MWM), which was accompanied by lower expression of the activity-dependent gene Arc. Quantitative RT-PCR, immunoblotting, and immunohistochemistry experiments showed a marked downregulation of neurofibromin expression in the dentate gyrus of both naive and MWM-treated En2(-/-) mice. ERK phosphorylation, known to be induced in the presence of neurofibromin deficiency, was increased in the dentate gyrus of En2(-/-) mice after MWM. Treatment of En2(-/-) mice with lovastatin, an indirect inhibitor of ERK phosphorylation, markedly reduced ERK phosphorylation in the dentate gyrus, but was unable to rescue learning deficits in MWM-trained mutant mice. Further investigation is needed to unravel the complex molecular mechanisms linking dysregulation of neurofibromin-dependent pathways to spatial learning deficits in the En2 mouse model of ASD.
Project description:Neurobehavioral studies have produced contradictory findings concerning the function of neurogenesis in the adult dentate gyrus. Previous studies have proved inconsistent across several behavioral endpoints thought to be dependent on dentate neurogenesis, including memory acquisition, short-term and long-term retention of memory, pattern separation, and reversal learning. We hypothesized that the main function of dentate neurogenesis is long-term memory formation because we assumed that a newly formed and integrated neuron would have a long-term impact on the local neural network. We used a cyclin D2-knock-out (cyclin D2-/-) mouse model of endogenously deficient dentate neurogenesis to test this hypothesis. We found that cyclin D2-/- mice had robust and sustained loss of long-term memory in two separate behavioral tasks, Morris water maze (MWM) and touchscreen intermediate pattern separation. Moreover, after adjusting for differences in brain volumes determined by magnetic resonance (MR) imaging, reduced dentate neurogenesis moderately correlated with deficits in memory retention after 24?hours. Importantly, cyclin D2-/- mice did not show deficits in learning acquisition in a touchscreen paradigm of intermediate pattern separation or MWM platform location, indicating intact short-term memory. Further evaluation of cyclin D2-/- mice is necessary to confirm that deficits are specifically linked to dentate gyrus neurogenesis since cyclin D2-/- mice also have a reduced size of the olfactory bulb, hippocampus, cerebellum and cortex besides reduced dentate gyrus neurogenesis.
Project description:Gene transcription and translation in the hippocampus is of critical importance in hippocampus-dependent memory formation, including during Morris water maze (MWM) learning. Previous work using gene deletion models has shown that the immediate-early genes (IEGs) c-Fos, Egr-1, and Arc are crucial for such learning. Recently, we reported that induction of IEGs in sparse dentate gyrus neurons requires ERK MAPK signaling and downstream formation of a distinct epigenetic histone mark (i.e., phospho-acetylated histone H3). Until now, this signaling, epigenetic and gene transcriptional pathway has not been comprehensively studied in the MWM model. Therefore, we conducted a detailed study of the phosphorylation of ERK1/2 and serine10 in histone H3 (H3S10p) and induction of IEGs in the hippocampus of MWM trained rats and matched controls. MWM training evoked consecutive waves of ERK1/2 phosphorylation and H3S10 phosphorylation, as well as c-Fos, Egr-1, and Arc induction in sparse hippocampal neurons. The observed effects were most pronounced in the dentate gyrus. A positive correlation was found between the average latency to find the platform and the number of H3S10p-positive dentate gyrus neurons. Furthermore, chromatin immuno-precipitation (ChIP) revealed a significantly increased association of phospho-acetylated histone H3 (H3K9ac-S10p) with the gene promoters of c-Fos and Egr-1, but not Arc, after MWM exposure compared with controls. Surprisingly, however, we found very little difference between IEG responses (regarding both protein and mRNA) in MWM-trained rats compared with matched swim controls. We conclude that exposure to the water maze evokes ERK MAPK activation, distinct epigenetic changes and IEG induction predominantly in sparse dentate gyrus neurons. It appears, however, that a specific role for IEGs in the learning aspect of MWM training may become apparent in downstream AP-1- and Egr-1-regulated (second wave) genes and Arc-dependent effector mechanisms.
Project description:Stroke significantly stimulates neurogenesis in the adult dentate gyrus, though the functional role of this postlesional response is mostly unclear. Recent findings suggest that newborn neurons generated in the context of stroke may fail to correctly integrate into pre-existing networks. We hypothesized that increased neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus following stroke is associated with aberrant neurogenesis and impairment of hippocampus-dependent memory. To address these questions we used the middle cerebral artery occlusion model (MCAO) in mice. Animals were housed either under standard conditions or with free access to running wheels. Newborn granule cells were labelled with the thymidine analoque EdU and retroviral vectors. To assess memory performance, we employed a modified version of the Morris water maze (MWM) allowing differentiation between hippocampus dependent and independent learning strategies. Newborn neurons were morphologically analyzed using confocal microscopy and Neurolucida system at 7 weeks. We found that neurogenesis was significantly increased following MCAO. Animals with MCAO needed more time to localize the platform and employed less hippocampus-dependent search strategies in MWM versus controls. Confocal studies revealed an aberrant cell morphology with basal dendrites and an ectopic location (e.g. hilus) of new granule cells born in the ischemic brain. Running increased the number of new neurons but also enhanced aberrant neurogenesis. Running, did not improve the general performance in the MWM but slightly promoted the application of precise spatial search strategies. In conclusion, ischemic insults cause hippocampal-dependent memory deficits which are associated with aberrant neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus indicating ischemia-induced maladaptive plasticity in the hippocampus.
Project description:Stroke increases neurogenesis in the adult dentate gyrus in the short term, however, long-term effects at the cellular and functional level are poorly understood. Here we evaluated the impact of an early stroke lesion on neurogenesis and cognitive function of the aging brain. We hypothesized that a stroke disturbs dentate neurogenesis during aging correlate with impaired flexible learning. To address this issue a stroke was induced in 3-month-old C57Bl/6 mice by a middle cerebral artery occlusion (MCAO). To verify long-term changes of adult neurogenesis the thymidine analogue BrdU (5-Bromo-2'-deoxyuridine) was administrated at different time points during aging. One and half months after BrdU injections learning and memory performance were assessed with a modified version of the Morris water maze (MWM) that includes the re-learning paradigm, as well as hippocampus-dependent and -independent search strategies. After MWM performance mice were transcardially perfused. To further evaluate in detail the stroke-mediated changes on stem- and progenitor cells as well as endogenous proliferation nestin-green-fluorescent protein (GFP) mice were used. Adult nestin-GFP mice received a retroviral vector injection in the hippocampus to evaluate changes in the neuronal morphology. At an age of 20 month the nestin-GFP mice were transcardially perfused after MWM performance and BrdU application 1.5 months later. The early stroke lesion significantly decreased neurogenesis in 7.5- and 9-month-old animals and also endogenous proliferation in the latter group. Furthermore, immature doublecortin (DCX)-positive neurons were reduced in 20-month-old nestin-GFP mice after lesion. All MCAO groups showed an impaired performance in the MWM and mostly relied on hippocampal-independent search strategies. These findings indicate that an early ischemic insult leads to a dramatical decline of neurogenesis during aging that correlates with a premature development of hippocampal-dependent deficits. Our study supports the notion that an early stroke might lead to long-term cognitive deficits as observed in human patients after lesion.
Project description:Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) signaling promotes brain development and plasticity. Altered IGF-1 expression has been associated to autism spectrum disorders (ASD). IGF-1 levels were found increased in the blood and decreased in the cerebrospinal fluid of ASD children. Accordingly, IGF-1 treatment can rescue behavioral deficits in mouse models of ASD, and IGF-1 trials have been proposed for ASD children. IGF-1 is mainly synthesized in the liver, and its synthesis is dependent on growth hormone (GH) produced in the pituitary gland. GH also modulates cognitive functions, and altered levels of GH have been detected in ASD patients. Here, we analyzed the expression of GH, IGF-1, their receptors, and regulatory hormones in the neuroendocrine system of adult male mice lacking the homeobox transcription factor Engrailed-2 (En2 (-/-) mice). En2 (-/-) mice display ASD-like behaviors (social interactions, defective spatial learning, increased seizure susceptibility) accompanied by relevant neuropathological changes (loss of cerebellar and forebrain inhibitory neurons). Recent studies showed that En2 modulates IGF-1 activity during postnatal cerebellar development. We found that GH mRNA expression was markedly deregulated throughout the neuroendocrine axis in En2 (-/-) mice, as compared to wild-type controls. In mutant mice, GH mRNA levels were significantly increased in the pituitary gland, blood, and liver, whereas decreased levels were detected in the hippocampus. These changes were paralleled by decreased levels of GH protein in the hippocampus but not other tissues of En2 (-/-) mice. IGF-1 mRNA was significantly up-regulated in the liver and down-regulated in the En2 (-/-) hippocampus, but no differences were detected in the levels of IGF-1 protein between the two genotypes. Our data strengthen the notion that altered GH levels in the hippocampus may be involved in learning disabilities associated to ASD.
Project description:Sensory impairments are critical for diagnosing and characterizing neurodevelopmental disorders. Taste is a sensory modality often not well characterized. Engrailed-2 (En2) is a transcription factor critical for neural development, and mice lacking En2 (En2-/-) display signs of impaired social interaction, cognitive processes (e.g., learning and memory, conditioned fear), and neurodevelopmental alterations. As such, En2-/- mice display the behavioral deficits and neural impairments characteristic of the core symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The objective of this study was to characterize the taste function in En2-/- compared with En2+/+ in adult male mice. Measuring taste responsiveness by an automated gustometer, En2 null mice had decreased lick responses for 1.6?M fructose, whereas they demonstrated an increased taste responsivity (i.e., relative to water) at 0.3?M sodium chloride and 1?M monosodium glutamate. In a separate cohort of mice, En2-/- mice had an increased preference for sodium chloride over a range of concentrations (0.032-0.3?M) compared with En2+/+ mice. Regional gene expression of the tongue epithelium demonstrated an increase in Scnn1a, T2R140, T1R3, and Trpm5 and a decrease in Pkd1l3 in En2 null mice. Taken together, such data indicate that deficits in En2 can produce sensory impairments that can have a measurable impact on taste, particularly salt taste.
Project description:We have previously described the transcriptional changes that occur in the hippocampal CA1 field of aged rats following a Morris Water Maze (MWM) training paradigm. In this report we proceed with the analysis of the dentate region from the same animals. Animals were first identified as age learning-impaired or age-superior learners when compared to young rats based on their performance in the MWM. Messenger RNA was isolated from the dentate gyrus of each animal to interrogate Affymetrix RAE 230A rat genome microarrays. Microarray profiling identified 1129 genes that were differentially expressed between aged and young rats as a result of aging, and independent of their behavioral training (p<0.005). We applied Ingenuity Pathway Analysis (IPA) algorithms to identify the significant biological processes underlying age-related changes in the dentate gyrus. The most significant functions, as calculated by IPA, included cell movement, cell growth and proliferation, nervous system development and function, cellular assembly and organization, cell morphology and cell death. These significant processes are consistent with age-related changes in neurogenesis, and the neurogenic markers were generally found to be downregulated in senescent animals. In addition, statistical analysis of the different experimental groups of aged animals recognized 85 genes (p<0.005) that were different in the dentate gyrus of aged rats that had learned the MWM when compared to learning impaired and a number of controls for stress, exercise and non-spatial learning. The list of learning-related genes expressed in the dentate adds to the set of genes we previously described in the CA1 region. This long list of genes constitutes a starting tool to elucidating the molecular pathways involved in learning and memory formation.
Project description:The homeobox-containing transcription factor Engrailed-2 (En2) is involved in patterning and neuronal differentiation of the midbrain/hindbrain region, where it is prominently expressed. En2 mRNA is also expressed in the adult mouse hippocampus and cerebral cortex, indicating that it might also function in these brain areas. Genome-wide association studies revealed that En2 is a candidate gene for autism spectrum disorders (ASD), and mice devoid of its expression (En2(-/-) mice) display anatomical, behavioral and clinical "autistic-like" features. Since reduced GABAergic inhibition has been proposed as a possible pathogenic mechanism of ASD, we hypothesized that the phenotype of En2(-/-) mice might include defective GABAergic innervation in the forebrain. Here we show that the Engrailed proteins are present in postnatal GABAergic neurons of the mouse hippocampus and cerebral cortex, and adult En2(-/-) mice show reduced expression of GABAergic marker mRNAs in these areas. In addition, reduction in parvalbumin (PV), somatostatin (SOM) and neuropeptide Y (NPY) expressing interneurons is detected in the hippocampus and cerebral cortex of adult En2(-/-) mice. Our results raise the possibility of a link between altered function of En2, anatomical deficits of GABAergic forebrain neurons and the pathogenesis of ASD.
Project description:Impaired function of GABAergic interneurons, and the subsequent alteration of excitation/inhibition balance, is thought to contribute to autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Altered numbers of GABAergic interneurons and reduced expression of GABA receptors has been detected in the brain of ASD subjects and mouse models of ASD. We previously showed a reduced expression of GABAergic interneuron markers parvalbumin (PV) and somatostatin (SST) in the forebrain of adult mice lacking the Engrailed2 gene (En2-/- mice). Here, we extended this analysis to postnatal day (P) 30 by using in situ hybridization, immunohistochemistry, and quantitative RT-PCR to study the expression of GABAergic interneuron markers in the hippocampus and somatosensory cortex of En2-/- and wild type (WT) mice. In addition, GABA receptor subunit mRNA expression was investigated by quantitative RT-PCR in the same brain regions of P30 and adult En2-/- and WT mice. As observed in adult animals, PV and SST expression was decreased in En2-/- forebrain of P30 mice. The expression of GABA receptor subunits (including the ASD-relevant Gabrb3) was also altered in young and adult En2-/- forebrain. Our results suggest that GABAergic neurotransmission deficits are already evident at P30, confirming that neurodevelopmental defects of GABAergic interneurons occur in the En2 mouse model of ASD.
Project description:Caffeoylquinic acid (CQA) is a natural polyphenol with evidence of antioxidant and neuroprotective effects and prevention of deficits in spatial learning and memory. We studied the cognitive-enhancing effect of 3,4,5-tricaffeoylquinic acid (TCQA) and explored its cellular and molecular mechanism in the senescence-accelerated mouse prone 8 (SAMP8) model of aging and Alzheimer's disease as well as in human neural stem cells (hNSCs). Mice were fed with 5 mg/kg of TCQA for 30 days and were tested in the Morris water maze (MWM). Brain tissues were collected for immunohistochemical detection of bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) to detect activated stem cells and newborn neurons. TCQA-treated SAMP8 exhibited significantly improved cognitive performance in MWM compared to water-treated SAMP8. TCQA-treated SAMP8 mice also had significantly higher numbers of BrdU+/glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP+) and BrdU+/Neuronal nuclei (NeuN+) cells in the dentate gyrus (DG) neurogenic niche compared with untreated SAMP8. In hNSCs, TCQA induced cell cycle arrest at G0/G1, actin cytoskeleton organization, chromatin remodeling, neuronal differentiation, and bone morphogenetic protein signaling. The neurogenesis promoting effect of TCQA in the DG of SAMP8 mice might explain the cognition-enhancing influence of TCQA observed in our study, and our hNSCs in aggregate suggest a therapeutic potential for TCQA in aging-associated diseases.