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Neuroscience. 2003;121(1):9-16.

Activation of the mitogen-activated protein kinase/extracellular signal-regulated kinase signaling pathway leading to cyclic AMP response element-binding protein phosphorylation is required for the long-term facilitation process of aversive olfactory learning in young rats.

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Department of Neuropsychiatry, Kochi Medical School, Nankoku, Kochi 783-8505, Japan.


The mitogen-activated protein kinase/extracellular-signal regulated kinase (MAPK/ERK) cascade is an important contributor to synaptic plasticity that underlies learning and memory. ERK activation by the MAPK/ERK kinase (MEK) leading to cyclic-AMP response element binding protein (CREB) phosphorylation is implicated in the formation of long-term memory. We have demonstrated that CREB phosphorylation in the olfactory bulb (OB) is important for aversive olfactory learning in young rats, yet whether MAPK/ERK functions as an upstream regulator are necessary for this olfactory learning remains to be determined. Therefore, we addressed this issue using behavioral and Western blot analyses. The MEK inhibitor PD98059 was continuously infused into the OB of postnatal day 11 rat pups during a 30-min training session regarding the pairing of citral odor and foot shock. On the following day, the time spent in the part of the apparatus where the odor was present was measured as an index of odor aversion. PD98059 impaired olfactory learning in a dose-dependent manner without affecting memory retention 1 h after training. We further tested whether odor-shock training leads to MAPK/ERK activation in the OB and defines the time course of the activation. Phosphorylated ERKs (P-ERKs) 1 and 2 were significantly increased for 60 min after the training without changes in total ERKs 1 and 2. By contrast, intrabulbar infusion of PD98059 during the training significantly reduced P-ERKs 1 and 2 as well as phosphorylated CREB without any effects on the total ERKs or CREB. Taken together with the previous findings, these results indicate that the MAPK/ERK-CREB pathway is required for the long-term, but not the short-term, facilitation process of aversive olfactory learning in young rats.

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