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The effect of nerve growth factor on supporting spatial memory depends upon hippocampal cholinergic innervation

Nerve growth factor (NGF) gene therapy has been used in clinical trials of Alzheimer’s disease. Understanding the underlying mechanisms of how NGF influences memory may help develop new strategies for treatment. Both NGF and the cholinergic system play important roles in learning and memory. NGF is essential for maintaining cholinergic innervation of the hippocampus, but it is unclear whether the supportive effect of NGF on learning and memory is specifically dependent upon intact hippocampal cholinergic innervation. Here we characterize the behavior and hippocampal measurements of volume, neurogenesis, long-term potentiation, and cholinergic innervation, in brain-specific Ngf-deficient mice. Our results show that knockout mice exhibit increased anxiety, impaired spatial learning and memory, decreased adult hippocampal volume, neurogenesis, short-term potentiation, and cholinergic innervation. Overexpression of Ngf in the hippocampus of Ngf gene knockout mice rescued spatial memory and partially restored cholinergic innervations, but not anxiety. Selective depletion of hippocampal cholinergic innervation resulted in impaired spatial memory. However, Ngf overexpression in the hippocampus failed to rescue spatial memory in mice with hippocampal-selective cholinergic fiber depletion. In conclusion, we demonstrate the impact of Ngf deficiency in the brain and provide evidence that the effect of NGF on spatial memory is reliant on intact cholinergic innervations in the hippocampus. These results suggest that adequate cholinergic targeting may be a critical requirement for successful use of NGF gene therapy of Alzheimer’s disease.

Eu, W. Z., Chen, Y. J., Chen, W. T., Wu, K. Y., Tsai, C. Y., Cheng, S. J., . . . Huang, G. J. (2021). The effect of nerve growth factor on supporting spatial memory depends upon hippocampal cholinergic innervation. Transl Psychiatry, 11(1), 162. doi:10.1038/s41398-021-01280-3