Remote memories are enhanced by COMT activity through dysregulation of the endocannabinoid system in the prefrontal cortex

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Abstract

The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is a crucial hub for the flexible modulation of recent memories (executive functions) as well as for the stable organization of remote memories. Dopamine in the PFC is implicated in both these processes and genetic variants affecting its neurotransmission might control the unique balance between cognitive stability and flexibility present in each individual. Functional genetic variants in the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene result in a different catabolism of dopamine in the PFC. However, despite the established role played by COMT genetic variation in executive functions, its impact on remote memory formation and recall is still poorly explored. Here we report that transgenic mice overexpressing the human COMT-Val gene (COMT-Val-tg) present exaggerated remote memories (> 50 days) while having unaltered recent memories (< 24 h). COMT selectively and reversibly modulated the recall of remote memories as silencing COMT Val overexpression starting from 30 days after the initial aversive conditioning normalized remote memories. COMT genetic overactivity produced a selective overdrive of the endocannabinoid system within the PFC, but not in the striatum and hippocampus, which was associated with enhanced remote memories. Indeed, acute pharmacological blockade of CB1 receptors was sufficient to rescue the altered remote memory recall in COMT-Val-tg mice and increased PFC dopamine levels. These results demonstrate that COMT genetic variations modulate the retrieval of remote memories through the dysregulation of the endocannabinoid system in the PFC.

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