Thus far the identification and functional characterization of the molecular mechanisms underlying synaptic plasticity, learning, and memory have not been particularly dissociated from the contribution of developmental changes. Brain plasticity mechanisms have been largely identified and studied using in vitro systems mainly derived from early developmental ages, yet they are considered to be general plasticity mechanisms underlying functions -such as long-term memory- that occurs in the adult brain. Although it is possible that part of the plasticity mechanisms recruited during development is then re-recruited in plasticity responses in adulthood, systematic investigations about whether and how activity-dependent molecular responses differ over development are sparse. Notably, hippocampal-dependent memories are expressed relatively late in development, and the hippocampus undergoes and extended developmental post-natal structural and functional maturation, suggesting that the molecular mechanisms underlying hippocampal neuroplasticity may actually significantly change over development. Here we quantified the relative basal expression levels of sets of plasticity, synaptic, glia and connectivity proteins in rat dorsal hippocampus, a region that is critical for the formation of long-term explicit memories, at two developmental ages, postnatal day 17 (PN17) and PN24, which correspond to a period of relative functional immaturity and maturity, respectively, and compared them to adult age. We found that the levels of numerous proteins and/or their phosphorylation, known to be critical for synaptic plasticity underlying memory formation, including immediate early genes (IEGs), kinases, transcription factors and AMPA receptor subunits, peak at PN17 when the hippocampus is not yet able to express long-term memory. It remains to be established if these changes result from developmental basal activity or infantile learning. Conversely, among all markers investigated, the phosphorylation of calcium calmodulin kinase II α (CamKII α and of extracellular signal-regulated kinases 2 (ERK-2), and the levels of GluA1 and GluA2 significantly increase from PN17 to PN24 and then remain similar in adulthood, thus representing correlates paralleling long-term memory expression ability.
Keywords: Connectivity; Development; Hippocampus; Memory; Myelin; Plasticity; Protein; Synapse.
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