Reduced expression of the vesicular acetylcholine transporter causes learning deficits in mice

Genes Brain Behav. 2009 Feb;8(1):23-35. doi: 10.1111/j.1601-183X.2008.00439.x. Epub 2008 Sep 6.


Storage of acetylcholine in synaptic vesicles plays a key role in maintaining cholinergic function. Here we used mice with a targeted mutation in the vesicular acetylcholine transporter (VAChT) gene that reduces transporter expression by 40% to investigate cognitive processing under conditions of VAChT deficiency. Motor skill learning in the rotarod revealed that VAChT mutant mice were slower to learn this task, but once they reached maximum performance they were indistinguishable from wild-type mice. Interestingly, motor skill performance maintenance after 10 days was unaffected in these mutant mice. We also tested whether reduced VAChT levels affected learning in an object recognition memory task. We found that VAChT mutant mice presented a deficit in memory encoding necessary for the temporal order version of the object recognition memory, but showed no alteration in spatial working memory, or spatial memory in general when tested in the Morris water maze test. The memory deficit in object recognition memory observed in VAChT mutant mice could be reversed by cholinesterase inhibitors, suggesting that learning deficits caused by reduced VAChT expression can be ameliorated by restoring ACh levels in the synapse. These data indicate an important role for cholinergic tone in motor learning and object recognition memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Learning Disabilities / genetics*
  • Learning Disabilities / psychology
  • Maze Learning / physiology
  • Mental Recall / physiology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Mutant Strains
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Motor Skills / physiology
  • Nerve Endings / metabolism
  • Postural Balance / physiology
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology
  • Vesicular Acetylcholine Transport Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Vesicular Acetylcholine Transport Proteins / genetics*


  • Vesicular Acetylcholine Transport Proteins