Temporal dynamics of immediate early gene expression during cellular consolidation of spatial memory
The consolidation of newly acquired memories on a cellular level is thought to take place in the first few hours following learning. This process is dependent on de novo protein synthesis during this time, which ultimately leads to long-term structural and functional neuronal changes and the stabilisation of a memory trace. Immediate early genes (IEGs) are rapidly expressed in neurons following learning, and previous research has suggested more than one wave of IEG expression facilitates consolidation in the hours following learning. We analysed the expression of Zif268, c-Fos and Arc protein in a number of brain regions involved in spatial learning either 90 min, 4 h or 8 h following training in the Morris water maze task. Consistent with the role of IEGs in the earliest stages of consolidation, a single wave of expression was observed in most brain regions at 90 min, however a subsequent wave of expression was not observed at 8 h. In fact, Zif268 expression was observed to fall below the levels of naïve controls at this time-point in the medial prefrontal and perirhinal cortices. This may be indicative of synaptic downscaling in these regions in the hours following learning, and an important marker of the consolidation of spatial memory.