Loss of the mu opioid receptor induces strain-specific alterations in hippocampal neurogenesis and spatial learning

Authors

T.P. Cominski, M.A. Ansonof , C.E. Turchin, J.E. Pintar

Abstract

Alterations in hippocampal neurogenesis affect spatial learning, though, the relative contributions of cell proliferation and cell survival on this process are poorly understood. The current study utilized mu opioid receptor (MOR-1) knockout (KO) mice on two background strains, C57BL/6 and 129S6, to assess cell survival as well as determine the impact on spatial learning using the Morris water maze. These experiments were designed to extend prior work showing that both C57BL/6 and 129S6 MOR-1 KO mice have an increased number of proliferating cells in the dentate gyrus (DG) when compared to wild-type (WT) mice. The current study indicates that newly born neurons in the DG of C57BL/6 MOR-1 KO mice exhibit enhanced survival when compared to WT mice, while new neurons in the DG of 129S6 MOR-1 KO mice do not. In addition, C57BL/6 MOR-1 KO mice have a lower number of apoptotic cells in the DG compared to WT mice while, in contrast, 129S6 MOR-1 KO mice have a higher number of apoptotic cells in this region. These alterations collectively contribute to an increase in the granule cell number in the DG of C57BL/6 MOR-1 KO mice, while the total number of granule cells in 129S6 MOR-1 KO mice is unchanged. Thus, although C57BL/6 and 129S6 MOR-1 KO mice both exhibit increased cell proliferation in the DG, the impact of the MOR-1 mutation on cell survival differs between strains. Furthermore, the decrease in DG cell survival displayed by 129S6 MOR-1 KO mice is correlated with functional deficits in spatial learning, suggesting that MOR-1-dependent alterations in the survival of new neurons in the DG, and not MOR-1-dependent changes in proliferation of progenitor cells in the DG, is important for spatial learning.