Role of adult neurogenesis in hippocampus-dependent memory, contextual fear extinction and remote contextual memory: new insights from ERK5 MAP kinase

Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2013 Oct;105:81-92. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2013.07.011. Epub 2013 Jul 18.


Adult neurogenesis occurs in two discrete regions of the adult mammalian brain, the subgranular zone (SGZ) of the dentate gyrus (DG) and the subventricular zone (SVZ) along the lateral ventricles. Signaling mechanisms regulating adult neurogenesis in the SGZ are currently an active area of investigation. Adult-born neurons in the DG functionally integrate into the hippocampal circuitry and form functional synapses, suggesting a role for these neurons in hippocampus-dependent memory formation. Although results from earlier behavioral studies addressing this issue were inconsistent, recent advances in conditional gene targeting technology, viral injection and optogenetic approaches have provided convincing evidence supporting a role for adult-born neurons in the more challenging forms of hippocampus-dependent learning and memory. Here, we briefly summarize these recent studies with a focus on extra signal-regulated kinase (ERK) 5, a MAP kinase whose expression in the adult brain is restricted to the neurogenic regions including the SGZ and SVZ. We review evidence identifying ERK5 as a novel endogenous signaling pathway that regulates the pro-neural transcription factor Neurogenin 2, is activated by neurotrophins and is critical for adult neurogenesis. We discuss studies demonstrating that specific deletion of ERK5 in the adult neurogenic regions impairs several forms of hippocampus-dependent memory formation in mice. These include contextual fear memory extinction, the establishment and maintenance of remote contextual fear memory, and several other challenging forms of hippocampus-dependent memory formation including 48h memory for novel object recognition, contextual fear memory established by a weak foot shock, pattern separation, and reversal of spatial learning and memory. We also briefly discuss current evidence that increasing adult neurogenesis, by small molecules or genetic manipulation, improves memory formation and long-term memory.

Keywords: Adult neurogenesis; Learning and memory; MAPK; Signal transduction.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dentate Gyrus / cytology
  • Dentate Gyrus / enzymology
  • Dentate Gyrus / physiology*
  • Extinction, Psychological / physiology*
  • Fear / physiology
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 7 / metabolism*
  • Neurogenesis* / genetics


  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 7