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Learn Mem. 2008 Oct 30;15(11):837-43. doi: 10.1101/lm.1049608. Print 2008 Nov.

Autophosphorylation of alphaCaMKII is differentially involved in new learning and unlearning mechanisms of memory extinction.

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  • 1Center for Dementia Research, Nathan Kline Institute, New York University School of Medicine, Orangeburg, New York 10962, USA.


Accumulating evidence indicates the key role of alpha-calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II (alphaCaMKII) in synaptic plasticity and learning, but it remains unclear how this kinase participates in the processing of memory extinction. Here, we investigated the mechanism by which alphaCaMKII may mediate extinction by using heterozygous knock-in mice with a targeted T286A mutation that prevents the autophosphorylation of this kinase (alphaCaMKII(T286A+/-)). Remarkably, partial reduction of alphaCaMKII function due to the T286A(+/-) mutation prevented the development of extinction without interfering with initial hippocampus-dependent memory formation as assessed by contextual fear conditioning and the Morris water maze. It is hypothesized that the mechanism of extinction may differ depending on the interval at which extinction training is started, being more akin to "new learning" at longer intervals and "unlearning" or "erasure" at shorter intervals. Consistent with this hypothesis, we found that extinction conducted 24 h, but not 15 min, after contextual fear training showed spontaneous recovery (reappearance of extinguished freezing responses) 21 d following the extinction, representing behavioral evidence for new learning and unlearning mechanisms underlying extinction 24 h and 15 min post-training, respectively. Importantly, the alphaCaMKII(T286A+/-) mutation blocked new learning of contextual fear memory extinction, whereas it did not interfere with unlearning processes. Our results demonstrate a genetic dissociation of new learning and unlearning mechanisms of extinction, and suggest that alphaCaMKII is responsible for extinguishing memories specifically through new learning mechanisms.

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