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J Neurosci. 1999 May 1;19(9):3535-44.

A mitogen-activated protein kinase cascade in the CA1/CA2 subfield of the dorsal hippocampus is essential for long-term spatial memory.

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Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, W. M. Keck Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, The University of Texas Medical School, Houston, Texas 77030, USA.


Behavioral, biophysical, and pharmacological studies have implicated the hippocampus in the formation and storage of spatial memory. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying long-term spatial memory are poorly understood. In this study, we show that mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK, also called ERK) is activated in the dorsal, but not the ventral, hippocampus of rats after training in a spatial memory task, the Morris water maze. The activation was expressed as enhanced phosphorylation of MAPK in the pyramidal neurons of the CA1/CA2 subfield. In contrast, no increase in the percentage of phospho-MAPK-positive cells was detected in either the CA3 subfield or the dentate gyrus. The enhanced phosphorylation was observed only after multiple training trials but not after a single trial or after multiple trials in which the location of the target platform was randomly changed between each trial. Inhibition of the MAPK/ERK cascade in dorsal hippocampi did not impair acquisition, but blocked the formation of long-term spatial memory. In contrast, intrahippocampal infusion of SB203580, a specific inhibitor of the stress-activated MAPK (p38 MAPK), did not interfere with memory storage. These results demonstrate a MAPK-mediated cellular event in the CA1/CA2 subfields of the dorsal hippocampus that is critical for long-term spatial memory.

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