Previous studies have provided extensive evidence that administration of cannabinoid drugs after training modulates the consolidation of memory for an aversive experience. The present experiments investigated whether the memory consolidation is regulated by endogenously released cannabinoids. The experiments first examined whether the endocannabinoids anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG) are released by aversive training. Inhibitory avoidance training with higher footshock intensity produced increased levels of AEA in the amygdala, hippocampus, and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) shortly after training in comparison with levels assessed in rats trained with lower footshock intensity or unshocked controls exposed only to the training apparatus. In contrast, 2-AG levels were not significantly elevated. The additional finding that posttraining infusions of the fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) inhibitor URB597, which selectively increases AEA levels at active synapses, administered into the basolateral complex of the amygdala (BLA), hippocampus, or mPFC enhanced memory strongly suggests that the endogenously released AEA modulates memory consolidation. Moreover, in support of the view that this emotional training-associated increase in endocannabinoid neurotransmission, and its effects on memory enhancement, depends on the integrity of functional interactions between these different brain regions, we found that disruption of BLA activity blocked the training-induced increases in AEA levels as well as the memory enhancement produced by URB597 administered into the hippocampus or mPFC. Thus, the findings provide evidence that emotionally arousing training increases AEA levels within prefrontal-limbic circuits and strongly suggest that this cannabinoid activation regulates emotional arousal effects on memory consolidation.
Keywords: anandamide; cannabinoid receptors; emotional arousal; endocannabinoids; inhibitory avoidance.