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      The endogenous cannabinoid system controls extinction of aversive memories

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          Abstract

          Acquisition and storage of aversive memories is one of the basic principles of central nervous systems throughout the animal kingdom. In the absence of reinforcement, the resulting behavioural response will gradually diminish to be finally extinct. Despite the importance of extinction, its cellular mechanisms are largely unknown. The cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) and endocannabinoids are present in memory-related brain areas and modulate memory. Here we show that the endogenous cannabinoid system has a central function in extinction of aversive memories. CB1-deficient mice showed strongly impaired short-term and long-term extinction in auditory fear-conditioning tests, with unaffected memory acquisition and consolidation. Treatment of wild-type mice with the CB1 antagonist SR141716A mimicked the phenotype of CB1-deficient mice, revealing that CB1 is required at the moment of memory extinction. Consistently, tone presentation during extinction trials resulted in elevated levels of endocannabinoids in the basolateral amygdala complex, a region known to control extinction of aversive memories. In the basolateral amygdala, endocannabinoids and CB1 were crucially involved in long-term depression of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid)-mediated inhibitory currents. We propose that endocannabinoids facilitate extinction of aversive memories through their selective inhibitory effects on local inhibitory networks in the amygdala.

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          Most cited references 25

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          Structure of a cannabinoid receptor and functional expression of the cloned cDNA.

          Marijuana and many of its constituent cannabinoids influence the central nervous system (CNS) in a complex and dose-dependent manner. Although CNS depression and analgesia are well documented effects of the cannabinoids, the mechanisms responsible for these and other cannabinoid-induced effects are not so far known. The hydrophobic nature of these substances has suggested that cannabinoids resemble anaesthetic agents in their action, that is, they nonspecifically disrupt cellular membranes. Recent evidence, however, has supported a mechanism involving a G protein-coupled receptor found in brain and neural cell lines, and which inhibits adenylate cyclase activity in a dose-dependent, stereoselective and pertussis toxin-sensitive manner. Also, the receptor is more responsive to psychoactive cannabinoids than to non-psychoactive cannabinoids. Here we report the cloning and expression of a complementary DNA that encodes a G protein-coupled receptor with all of these properties. Its messenger RNA is found in cell lines and regions of the brain that have cannabinoid receptors. These findings suggest that this protein is involved in cannabinoid-induced CNS effects (including alterations in mood and cognition) experienced by users of marijuana.
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            Genetic enhancement of learning and memory in mice.

            Hebb's rule (1949) states that learning and memory are based on modifications of synaptic strength among neurons that are simultaneously active. This implies that enhanced synaptic coincidence detection would lead to better learning and memory. If the NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptor, a synaptic coincidence detector, acts as a graded switch for memory formation, enhanced signal detection by NMDA receptors should enhance learning and memory. Here we show that overexpression of NMDA receptor 2B (NR2B) in the forebrains of transgenic mice leads to enhanced activation of NMDA receptors, facilitating synaptic potentiation in response to stimulation at 10-100 Hz. These mice exhibit superior ability in learning and memory in various behavioural tasks, showing that NR2B is critical in gating the age-dependent threshold for plasticity and memory formation. NMDA-receptor-dependent modifications of synaptic efficacy, therefore, represent a unifying mechanism for associative learning and memory. Our results suggest that genetic enhancement of mental and cognitive attributes such as intelligence and memory in mammals is feasible.
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              SR141716A, a potent and selective antagonist of the brain cannabinoid receptor.

              SR141716A is the first selective and orally active antagonist of the brain cannabinoid receptor. This compound displays nanomolar affinity for the central cannabinoid receptor but is not active on the peripheral cannabinoid receptor. In vitro, SR141716A antagonises the inhibitory effects of cannabinoid receptor agonists on both mouse vas deferens contractions and adenylyl cyclase activity in rat brain membranes. After intraperitoneal or oral administration SR141716A antagonises classical pharmacological and behavioural effects of cannabinoid receptor agonists. This compound should prove to be a powerful tool for investigating the in vivo functions of the anandamide/cannabinoid system.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Nature
                Nature
                Springer Science and Business Media LLC
                0028-0836
                1476-4687
                August 2002
                August 2002
                : 418
                : 6897
                : 530-534
                Article
                10.1038/nature00839
                12152079
                © 2002

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