Bidirectional Regulation of Cognitive and Anxiety-like Behaviors by Dentate Gyrus Mossy Cells in Male and Female Mice

J Neurosci. 2021 Mar 17;41(11):2475-2495. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1724-20.2021. Epub 2021 Jan 20.


The dentate gyrus (DG) of the hippocampus is important for cognition and behavior. However, the circuits underlying these functions are unclear. DG mossy cells (MCs) are potentially important because of their excitatory synapses on the primary cell type, granule cells (GCs). However, MCs also activate GABAergic neurons, which inhibit GCs. We used viral delivery of designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs (DREADDs) in mice to implement a gain- and loss-of-function study of MCs in diverse behaviors. Using this approach, manipulations of MCs could bidirectionally regulate behavior. The results suggest that inhibiting MCs can reduce anxiety-like behavior and improve cognitive performance. However, not all cognitive or anxiety-related behaviors were influenced, suggesting specific roles of MCs in some, but not all, types of cognition and anxiety. Notably, several behaviors showed sex-specific effects, with females often showing more pronounced effects than the males. We also used the immediate early gene c-Fos to address whether DREADDs bidirectionally regulated MC or GC activity. We confirmed excitatory DREADDs increased MC c-Fos. However, there was no change in GC c-Fos, consistent with MC activation leading to GABAergic inhibition of GCs. In contrast, inhibitory DREADDs led to a large increase in GC c-Fos, consistent with a reduction in MC excitation of GABAergic neurons, and reduced inhibition of GCs. Together, these results suggest that MCs regulate anxiety and cognition in specific ways. We also raise the possibility that cognitive performance may be improved by reducing anxiety.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT The dentate gyrus (DG) has many important cognitive roles as well as being associated with affective behavior. This study addressed how a glutamatergic DG cell type called mossy cells (MCs) contributes to diverse behaviors, which is timely because it is known that MCs regulate the activity of the primary DG cell type, granule cells (GCs), but how MC activity influences behavior is unclear. We show, surprisingly, that activating MCs can lead to adverse behavioral outcomes, and inhibiting MCs have an opposite effect. Importantly, the results appeared to be task-dependent and showed that testing both sexes was important. Additional experiments indicated what MC and GC circuitry was involved. Together, the results suggest how MCs influence behaviors that involve the DG.

Keywords: contextual fear conditioning; hilus; immediate early gene; memory; novelty; object recognition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety / physiopathology*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Dentate Gyrus / physiology*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mossy Fibers, Hippocampal / physiology*