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Learn Mem. 2006 May-Jun;13(3):322-8.

ERK/MAPK regulates hippocampal histone phosphorylation following contextual fear conditioning.

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Department of Neuroscience, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas 77030, USA.


Long-term memory formation is regulated by many distinct molecular mechanisms that control gene expression. An emerging model for effecting a stable, coordinated pattern of gene transcription involves epigenetic tagging through modifications of histones or DNA. In this study, we investigated the regulation of histone phosphorylation in the hippocampus by the ERK/MAPK (extracellular signal-regulated kinase/mitogen-activated protein kinase) pathway. We found that activation of ERK/MAPK in vitro significantly increased histone H3 phosphorylation in hippocampal area CA1. Furthermore, we found that contextual fear conditioning in vivo leads to a rapid time-dependent increase in histone H3 phosphorylation in area CA1. This increase paralleled the time course of contextual fear-dependent activation of ERK, and was inhibited in vivo by a latent inhibition paradigm as well as by injection of an N-methyl-d-aspartic acid receptor (NMDA-R) antagonist. Finally, injection of an inhibitor of MEK (MAP kinase/ERK kinase), the unique dual-specificity kinase upstream of ERK, blocked the increase in histone H3 phosphorylation seen after contextual fear conditioning. These results demonstrate that changes in histone phosphorylation in the hippocampus are regulated by ERK/MAPK following a behavioral fear conditioning paradigm.

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