Training-Associated Emotional Arousal Shapes Endocannabinoid Modulation of Spatial Memory Retrieval in Rats

J Neurosci. 2015 Oct 14;35(41):13962-74. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1983-15.2015.


Variations in environmental aversiveness influence emotional memory processes in rats. We have previously shown that cannabinoid effects on memory are dependent on the stress level at the time of training as well as on the aversiveness of the environmental context. Here, we investigated whether the hippocampal endocannabinoid system modulates memory retrieval depending on the training-associated arousal level. Male adult Sprague Dawley rats were trained on a water maze spatial task at two different water temperatures (19°C and 25°C) to elicit either higher or lower stress levels, respectively. Rats trained under the higher stress condition had better memory and higher corticosterone concentrations than rats trained at the lower stress condition. The cannabinoid receptor agonist WIN55212-2 (10-30 ng/side), the 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG) hydrolysis inhibitor JZL184 (0.1-1 μg/side), and the anandamide (AEA) hydrolysis inhibitor URB597 (10-30 ng/side) were administered bilaterally into the hippocampus 60 min before probe-trial retention testing. WIN55212-2 or JZL184, but not URB597, impaired probe-trial performances only of rats trained at the higher stressful condition. Furthermore, rats trained under higher stress levels displayed an increase in hippocampal 2-AG, but not AEA, levels at the time of retention testing and a decreased affinity of the main 2-AG-degrading enzyme for its substrate. The present findings indicate that the endocannabinoid 2-AG in the hippocampus plays a key role in the selective regulation of spatial memory retrieval of stressful experience, shedding light on the neurobiological mechanisms involved in the impact of stress effects on memory processing.

Significance statement: Endogenous cannabinoids play a central role in the modulation of memory for emotional events. Here we demonstrate that the endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoylglycerol in the hippocampus, a brain region crucially involved in the regulation of memory processes, selectively modulates spatial memory recall of stressful experiences. Thus, our findings provide evidence that the endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoylglycerol is a key player in mediating the impact of stress on memory retrieval. These findings can pave the way to new potential therapeutic intervention for the treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, where a previous exposure to traumatic events could alter the response to traumatic memory recall leading to mental illness.

Keywords: cannabinoid receptors; emotional arousal; endocannabinoids; memory for emotional experiences; stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arachidonic Acids / pharmacology
  • Arousal / drug effects
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Benzamides / pharmacology
  • Benzoxazines / pharmacology
  • Calcium Channel Blockers / pharmacology
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists / pharmacology
  • Carbamates / pharmacology
  • Corticosterone / blood
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Emotions / drug effects
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Endocannabinoids / metabolism*
  • Endocannabinoids / pharmacology
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Glycerides / pharmacology
  • Hippocampus / drug effects
  • Hippocampus / physiology
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / drug effects
  • Mental Recall / drug effects
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Morpholines / pharmacology
  • Naphthalenes / pharmacology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Spatial Learning / drug effects
  • Spatial Learning / physiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / blood
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism
  • Temperature


  • Arachidonic Acids
  • Benzamides
  • Benzoxazines
  • Calcium Channel Blockers
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists
  • Carbamates
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Glycerides
  • Morpholines
  • Naphthalenes
  • cyclohexyl carbamic acid 3'-carbamoylbiphenyl-3-yl ester
  • (3R)-((2,3-dihydro-5-methyl-3-((4-morpholinyl)methyl)pyrrolo-(1,2,3-de)-1,4-benzoxazin-6-yl)(1-naphthalenyl))methanone
  • glyceryl 2-arachidonate
  • Corticosterone