The cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1) is abundantly expressed in the central nervous system where it negatively controls the release of several neurotransmitters. CB1 activity plays a crucial role in learning and memory and in synaptic plasticity. In the present study, the role of CB1 was investigated in three different hippocampus-dependent memory tasks and in in vivo hippocampal synaptic plasticity in knockout (CB1-ko) and wildtype mice. There was no difference in short-term and long-term social and object recognition memory between CB1-ko and wildtype mice. In contrast, in background contextual fear conditioning CB1-ko mice showed enhanced freezing levels in the conditioning context and increased generalised contextual fear after a high-intensity conditioning foot shock of 1.5 mA, but not after 0.7 mA. In in vivo field potential recordings in the dentate gyrus, CB1-ko mice displayed a decreased paired-pulse facilitation of the populations spikes, suggesting an altered inhibitory synaptic drive onto hippocampal granule cells. Furthermore, CB1-ko mice displayed significantly higher levels of in vivo long-term potentiation (LTP) in the dentate gyrus. In conclusion, CB1 deficiency leads to enhanced contextual fear memory and altered synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus, supporting the key role of endocannabinoid signalling in learning and memory, in particular following highly aversive encounters.
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