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J Neurosci. 2012 Oct 10;32(41):14165-77. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1402-12.2012.

Pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide induces postsynaptically expressed potentiation in the intra-amygdala circuit.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Belmont, Massachusetts 02478, USA.


Pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide (PACAP) is a pleiotropic neuropeptide expressed in the brain, where it may act as a neuromodulator or neurotransmitter contributing to different behavioral processes and stress responses. PACAP is highly expressed in the amygdala, a subcortical brain area involved in both innate and learned fear, suggesting a role for PACAP-mediated signaling in fear-related behaviors. It remains unknown, however, whether and how PACAP affects neuronal and synaptic functions in the amygdala. In this study, we focused on neurons in the lateral division of the central nucleus (CeL), where PACAP-positive presynaptic terminals were predominantly found within the amygdala. In our experiments on rat brain slices, exogenous application of PACAP did not affect either resting membrane potential or membrane excitability of CeL neurons. PACAP enhanced, however, excitatory synaptic transmission in projections from the basolateral nucleus (BLA) to the CeL, while inhibitory transmission in the same pathway was unaffected. PACAP-induced potentiation of glutamatergic synaptic responses persisted after the washout of PACAP and was blocked by the VPAC1 receptor antagonist, suggesting that VPAC1 receptors might mediate synaptic effects of PACAP in the CeL. Moreover, potentiation of synaptic transmission by PACAP was dependent on postsynaptic activation of protein kinase A and calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II, as well as synaptic targeting of GluR1 subunit-containing AMPA receptors. Thus, PACAP may upregulate excitatory neurotransmission in the BLA-CeL pathway postsynaptically, consistent with the known roles of PACAP in control of fear-related behaviors.

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