Cholecystokinin-Expressing Interneurons of the Medial Prefrontal Cortex Mediate Working Memory Retrieval

J Neurosci. 2020 Mar 11;40(11):2314-2331. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1919-19.2020. Epub 2020 Jan 31.


Distinct components of working memory are coordinated by different classes of inhibitory interneurons in the PFC, but the role of cholecystokinin (CCK)-positive interneurons remains enigmatic. In humans, this major population of interneurons shows histological abnormalities in schizophrenia, an illness in which deficient working memory is a core defining symptom and the best predictor of long-term functional outcome. Yet, CCK interneurons as a molecularly distinct class have proved intractable to examination by typical molecular methods due to widespread expression of CCK in the pyramidal neuron population. Using an intersectional approach in mice of both sexes, we have succeeded in labeling, interrogating, and manipulating CCK interneurons in the mPFC. Here, we describe the anatomical distribution, electrophysiological properties, and postsynaptic connectivity of CCK interneurons, and evaluate their role in cognition. We found that CCK interneurons comprise a larger proportion of the mPFC interneurons compared with parvalbumin interneurons, targeting a wide range of neuronal subtypes with a distinct connectivity pattern. Phase-specific optogenetic inhibition revealed that CCK, but not parvalbumin, interneurons play a critical role in the retrieval of working memory. These findings shine new light on the relationship between cortical CCK interneurons and cognition and offer a new set of tools to investigate interneuron dysfunction and cognitive impairments associated with schizophrenia.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Cholecystokinin-expressing interneurons outnumber other interneuron populations in key brain areas involved in cognition and memory, including the mPFC. However, they have proved intractable to examination as experimental techniques have lacked the necessary selectivity. To the best of our knowledge, the present study is the first to report detailed properties of cortical cholecystokinin interneurons, revealing their anatomical organization, electrophysiological properties, postsynaptic connectivity, and behavioral function in working memory.

Keywords: CCK; GABA; interneuron; mPFC; optogenetics; working memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Appetitive Behavior / physiology
  • Cholecystokinin / physiology*
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology
  • Female
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Interneurons / classification
  • Interneurons / physiology*
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / analysis
  • Odorants
  • Optogenetics
  • Parvalbumins / analysis
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Reward
  • Schizophrenia / physiopathology
  • Smell / physiology
  • Synaptic Potentials / physiology


  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Parvalbumins
  • Cholecystokinin