The basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factor TCF4 was confirmed in the combined analysis of several large genome-wide association studies (GWAS) as one of the rare highly replicated significant schizophrenia (SZ) susceptibility genes in large case-control cohorts. Focused genetic association studies showed that TCF4 influences verbal learning and memory, and modulates sensorimotor gating. Mice overexpressing Tcf4 in the forebrain (Tcf4tg) display cognitive deficits in hippocampus-dependent learning tasks and impairment of prepulse inhibition, a well-established endophenotype of SZ. The spectrum of cognitive deficits in SZ subjects, however, is broad and covers attention, working memory, and anticipation. Collectively, these higher order cognitive processes and the recall of remote memories are thought to depend mainly on prefrontal cortical networks. To further investigate cognitive disturbances in Tcf4tg mice, we employed the trace fear conditioning paradigm that requires attention and critically depends on the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). We show that Tcf4tg mice display deficits in recent and remote trace fear memory and are impaired at anticipating aversive stimuli. We also assessed mRNA expression of the neuronal activity-regulated gene Fos in the ACC and hippocampus. Upon trace conditioning, Fos expression is reduced in Tcf4tg mice as compared to controls, which parallels cognitive impairments in this learning paradigm. Collectively, these data indicate that the reduced cognitive performance in Tcf4tg mice includes deficits at the level of attention and behavioral anticipation.
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