Tetrahydrobiopterin improves hippocampal nitric oxide-linked long-term memory

Mol Genet Metab. 2018 Sep;125(1-2):104-111. doi: 10.1016/j.ymgme.2018.06.003. Epub 2018 Jun 11.


Tetrahydrobiopterin (BH4) is synthesized by the combined action of three metabolic pathways, namely de novo synthesis, recycling, and salvage pathways. The best-known function of BH4 is its mandatory action as a natural cofactor of the aromatic amino acid hydroxylases and nitric oxide synthases. Thus, BH4 is essential for the synthesis of nitric oxide, a retrograde neurotransmitter involved in learning and memory. We investigated the effect of BH4 (4-4000 pmol) intracerebroventricular administration on aversive memory, and on BH4 metabolism in the hippocampus of rodents. Memory-related behaviors were assessed in Swiss and C57BL/6 J mice, and in Wistar rats. It was consistently observed across all rodent species that BH4 facilitates aversive memory acquisition and consolidation by increasing the latency to step-down in the inhibitory avoidance task. This effect was associated with a reduced threshold to generate hippocampal long-term potentiation process. In addition, two inhibitors of memory formation (N(ω)-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester - L-Name - and dizocilpine - MK-801 -) blocked the enhanced effect of BH4 on memory, while the amnesic effect was not rescue by the co-administration of BH4 or a cGMP analog (8-Br-cGMP). The data strongly suggest that BH4 enhances aversive memory by activating the glutamatergic neurotransmission and the retrograde activity of NO. It was also demonstrated that BH2 can be converted into BH4 by activating the BH4 salvage pathway under physiological conditions in the hippocampus. This is the first evidence showing that BH4 enhances aversive memory and that the BH4 salvage pathway is active in the hippocampus.

Keywords: BH4 salvage pathway; LTP; Memory; Tetrahydrobiopterin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arginine / analogs & derivatives
  • Arginine / metabolism
  • Biopterins / administration & dosage
  • Biopterins / analogs & derivatives*
  • Female
  • GTP Cyclohydrolase / genetics
  • Hippocampus / drug effects*
  • Hippocampus / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Long-Term / drug effects*
  • Memory, Long-Term / physiology
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Nitric Oxide / metabolism*
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase / genetics
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects


  • Biopterins
  • arginine methyl ester
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Arginine
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase
  • GTP Cyclohydrolase
  • sapropterin