Behavioral phenotyping of heterozygous acetylcholinesterase knockout (AChE+/-) mice showed no memory enhancement but hyposensitivity to amnesic drugs

Behav Brain Res. 2010 Jan 20;206(2):263-73. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2009.09.024. Epub 2009 Sep 18.


Decrease in the expression or activity of acetylcholinesterase (AChE) enzymatic activity results in increased cholinergic tonus in the brain and periphery, with concomitant regulations of nicotinic and muscarinic receptors expression. We generated AChE knockout mice and characterized the behavioral phenotype of heterozygous animals, focusing on learning and memory functions. Male and female, AChE+/- and AChE+/+ littermate controls (129 sv strain) were tested at 5-9 weeks of age. AChE activity was significantly decreased in the hippocampus and cortex of AChE+/- mice, but butyrylcholinesterase activity was preserved. AChE+/- mice failed to show any difference in terms of locomotion, exploration and anxiety parameters in the open-field test. Animals were then tested for place learning in the water-maze. They were trained using a 'sustained acquisition' protocol (3 swim trials per day) or a 'mild acquisition' protocol (2 swim trials per day) to locate an invisible platform in fixed position (reference memory procedure). Then, during 3 days, they were trained to locate the platform in a variable position (working memory procedure). Learning profiles and probe test performances were similar for AChE+/- and AChE+/+ mice. Mice were then treated with the muscarinic receptor antagonist scopolamine (0.5, 5 mg/kg) 20 min before each training session. Scopolamine impaired learning at both doses in AChE+/+ mice, but only at the highest dose in AChE+/- mice. Moreover, the intracerebroventricular injection of amyloid-beta25-35 peptide, 9 nmol, 7 days before water-maze acquisition, failed to induce learning deficits in AChE+/- mice, but impaired learning in AChE+/+ controls. The peptide failed to be toxic in forebrain structures of AChE+/- mice, since an increase in lipid peroxidation levels was measured in the hippocampus of AChE+/+ but not AChE+/- mice. We conclude that the increase in cholinergic tonus observed in AChE+/- mice did not result in increased memory functions but allowed a significant prevention of the deleterious effects of muscarinic blockade or amyloid toxicity.

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholinesterase / genetics*
  • Acetylcholinesterase / metabolism
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / pharmacology
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Cerebral Cortex / metabolism
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Exploratory Behavior / drug effects
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology*
  • Female
  • Heterozygote*
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Lipid Peroxidation / drug effects
  • Lipid Peroxidation / genetics
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / drug effects
  • Maze Learning / physiology
  • Memory, Short-Term / drug effects
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Motor Activity / drug effects
  • Motor Activity / genetics*
  • Muscarinic Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Peptide Fragments / pharmacology
  • Phenotype*
  • Scopolamine / pharmacology
  • Sex Factors


  • Amyloid beta-Peptides
  • Muscarinic Antagonists
  • Peptide Fragments
  • amyloid beta-protein (25-35)
  • Scopolamine
  • Acetylcholinesterase