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Nitric Oxide. 2004 May;10(3):130-40.

Neuronal nitric oxide synthase knock-out mice show impaired cognitive performance.

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Department of Neonatology, University of Vienna, AKH, Vienna, Austria.


Nitric oxide (NO) plays a role in a series of neurobiological functions, underlying behavior and memory. The functional role of nNOS derived NO in cognitive functions, however, is elusive. We decided to study cognitive functions in the Morris water maze (MWM) and the multiple T-maze (MTM) in 3-month-old male nNOS-knock-out mice (nNOS KO). To study the influence of neurology and behavior, we performed tests in an observational battery, the rota-rod, the elevated plus maze (EPM), the open field (OF), and a social interaction test. In the memory and relearning task of the MWM, most nNOS KO failed whereas performing better in the MTM. nNOS KO displayed significantly increased frequency of grooming, center crossings, and entries into the center in the OF. The observational battery revealed significantly increased scores for touch-escape reaction, body position, locomotion, and pelvic- and tail-elevation together with reduced vocalization. In the EPM, the time spent in the closed arm and the grooming frequency were significantly increased whereas urination was absent. We conclude that nNOS KO show impaired spatial performance in the MWM and herewith confirm the role of nNOS in cognitive functions such as processing, maintenance, and recall of memory. It must be taken into account that the major behavioral findings of increased grooming and anxiety-related behaviors may have led to impaired function in the MWM. The fact that nNOS KO performed well in the MTM, reflecting a low stress situation points to the interpretation that nNOS inhibition affects cognitive functions under stressful conditions (MWM) only.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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