Biphasic Npas4 expression promotes inhibitory plasticity and suppression of fear memory consolidation in mice

Mol Psychiatry. 2024 Feb 13. doi: 10.1038/s41380-024-02454-3. Online ahead of print.


Long-term memories are believed to be encoded by unique transcriptional signatures in the brain. The expression of immediate early genes (IEG) promotes structural and molecular changes required for memory consolidation. Recent evidence has shown that the brain is equipped with mechanisms that not only promote, but actively constrict memory formation. However, it remains unknown whether IEG expression may play a role in memory suppression. Here we uncovered a novel function of the IEG neuronal PAS domain protein 4 (Npas4), as an inducible memory suppressor gene of highly salient aversive experiences. Using a contextual fear conditioning paradigm, we found that low stimulus salience leads to monophasic Npas4 expression, while highly salient learning induces a biphasic expression of Npas4 in the hippocampus. The later phase requires N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor activity and is independent of dopaminergic neurotransmission. Our in vivo pharmacological and genetic manipulation experiments suggested that the later phase of Npas4 expression restricts the consolidation of a fear memory and promote behavioral flexibility, by facilitating fear extinction and the contextual specificity of fear responses. Moreover, immunofluorescence and electrophysiological analysis revealed a concomitant increase in synaptic input from cholecystokinin (CCK)-expressing interneurons. Our results demonstrate how salient experiences evoke unique temporal patterns of IEG expression that fine-tune memory consolidation. Moreover, our study provides evidence for inducible gene expression associated with memory suppression as a possible mechanism to balance the consolidation of highly salient memories, and thereby to evade the formation of maladaptive behavior.