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Mol Psychiatry. 2004 Feb;9(2):174-83.

Stress-induced alternative splicing of acetylcholinesterase results in enhanced fear memory and long-term potentiation.

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Department of Molecular Neuroendocrinology, Max Planck Institute for Experimental Medicine, Goettingen, Germany.


Stress insults intensify fear memory; however, the mechanism(s) facilitating this physiological response is still unclear. Here, we report the molecular, neurophysiological and behavioral findings attributing much of this effect to alternative splicing of the acetylcholinesterase (AChE) gene in hippocampal neurons. As a case study, we explored immobilization-stressed mice with intensified fear memory and enhanced long-term potentiation (LTP), in which alternative splicing was found to induce overproduction of neuronal 'readthrough' AChE-R (AChE-R). Selective downregulation of AChE-R mRNA and protein by antisense oligonucleotides abolished the stress-associated increase in AChE-R, the elevation of contextual fear and LTP in the hippocampal CA1 region. Reciprocally, we intrahippocampally injected a synthetic peptide representing the C-terminal sequence unique to AChE-R. The injected peptide, which has been earlier found to exhibit no enzymatic activity, was incorporated into cortical, hippocampal and basal nuclei neurons by endocytosis and retrograde transport and enhanced contextual fear. Compatible with this hypothesis, inherited AChE-R overexpression in transgenic mice resulted in perikaryal clusters enriched with PKCbetaII, accompanied by PKC-augmented LTP enhancement. Our findings demonstrate a primary role for stress-induced alternative splicing of the AChE gene to elevated contextual fear and synaptic plasticity, and attribute to the AChE-R splice variant a major role in this process.

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