Molecular psychology: roles for the ERK MAP kinase cascade in memory

Annu Rev Pharmacol Toxicol. 2002;42:135-63. doi: 10.1146/annurev.pharmtox.42.082701.145401.


In this review we describe an emerging understanding of the roles of the Extracellular-signal regulated kinase/mitogen-activated protein kinase (ERK/MAPK) cascade in learning and memory. We begin by describing several behavioral memory paradigms and review data implicating ERK as an essential component of the signal transduction mechanisms subserving these processes. We then describe evidence implicating ERK as a critical player in synaptic and neuronal plasticity-a cellular role likely to underlie ERK's behavioral role in the animal. We then proceed to parsing the complexities of biochemical regulation of ERK in neurons and to a description of a few likely cellular targets of ERK. This is in order to begin discussing the possible molecular basis of ERK-mediated behavioral change. We close our review with speculations concerning how the complexities and idiosyncrasies of ERK regulation may allow for sophisticated information processing at the biochemical level in neurons-attributes that may make the ERK cascade well-suited for triggering complex and long-lasting behavioral change. Our goal in this review is not so much to portray ERK as unique regarding its role as a signal transducter in memory, but rather to use ERK as one specific example of recent studies beginning to address the molecules and signal transduction pathways subserving cognition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cyclic AMP Response Element-Binding Protein / physiology
  • Humans
  • Long-Term Potentiation
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System / physiology*
  • Memory*
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / physiology
  • Neurons / enzymology
  • Phosphorylation
  • Potassium Channels / physiology
  • Potassium Channels, Voltage-Gated*
  • Shal Potassium Channels


  • Cyclic AMP Response Element-Binding Protein
  • Potassium Channels
  • Potassium Channels, Voltage-Gated
  • Shal Potassium Channels
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases