Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF) Is Required for Spatial Learning and Memory in Male Mice under Physiological, but Not Immune-Challenged Conditions

Cells. 2021 Mar 9;10(3):608. doi: 10.3390/cells10030608.


Increasing evidence demonstrates that inflammatory cytokines-such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-are produced at low levels in the brain under physiological conditions and may be crucial for synaptic plasticity, neurogenesis, learning and memory. Here, we examined the effects of developmental TNF deletion on spatial learning and memory using 11-13-month-old TNF knockout (KO) and C57BL6/J wild-type (WT) mice. The animals were tested in the Barnes maze (BM) arena under baseline conditions and 48 h following an injection of the endotoxin lipopolysaccharide (LPS), which was administered at a dose of 0.5 mg/kg. Vehicle-treated KO mice were impaired compared to WT mice during the acquisition and memory-probing phases of the BM test. No behavioral differences were observed between WT and TNF-KO mice after LPS treatment. Moreover, there were no differences in the hippocampal content of glutamate and noradrenaline between groups. The effects of TNF deletion on spatial learning and memory were observed in male, but not female mice, which were not different compared to WT mice under baseline conditions. These results indicate that TNF is required for spatial learning and memory in male mice under physiological, non-inflammatory conditions, however not following the administration of LPS. Inflammatory signalling can thereby modulate spatial cognition in male subjects, highlighting the importance of sex- and probably age-stratified analysis when examining the role of TNF in the brain.

Keywords: Barnes maze; LPS; TNF; aging; cognition; inflammation; sickness behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Immunity*
  • Lipopolysaccharides / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Maze Learning
  • Memory*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Spatial Learning*
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / genetics
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / metabolism*


  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha