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Behav Brain Res. 2010 Mar 17;208(1):80-4. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2009.11.010. Epub 2009 Nov 10.

Hypoxia inducible factor stabilization leads to lasting improvement of hippocampal memory in healthy mice.

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  • 1Division of Clinical Neuroscience, Max Planck Institute of Experimental Medicine, Hermann-Rein-Str. 3, 37075 Göttingen, Germany.


We have previously shown that high-dose erythropoietin (EPO) treatment improves hippocampal plasticity and cognitive performance in rodents and in patients suffering from neuropsychiatric diseases. It was therefore of interest to explore whether upregulation of endogenous EPO in brain by hypoxia inducible factor (HIF) stabilization would increase hippocampal memory similar to exogenous EPO. HIFs are transcription factors involved in the cellular response to low oxygen, including upregulation of transcripts like vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and EPO. Under normal oxygen, prolylhydroxylases decrease HIF-alpha stability. This is banned by prolylhydroxylase inhibitors, which prevent oxygen dependent degradation and thus prolong HIF-alpha half life. In an experimental set-up identical to the one yielding strong cognitive effects with EPO, healthy male 28-day-old mice received FG-4497, a HIF prolylhydroxylase inhibitor, or placebo intraperitoneally every other day for 3 weeks. Behavioral testing and hematocrit determinations were conducted in independent cohorts at 1, 3, or 4 weeks after treatment completion. Increased EPO and VEGF mRNA expression in hippocampus or primary hippocampal neurons 6h after the application of FG-4497 confirmed its ability to stabilize HIF and upregulate HIF dependent transcription in brain. At 3 and 4 weeks after the last injection, respectively, FG-4497 treated mice compared to placebo mice had improved hippocampal memory in fear conditioning without change in hematocrit. In contrast, no improvement in memory was detected at 1 week, when the hematocrit was increased, indicating that cognitive improvement and hematocrit are not directly related. FG-4497 application for 3 weeks leads to delayed but lasting enhancement of hippocampal memory, making HIF stabilization an attractive target for pharmacological manipulation of cognition.

Copyright 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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