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Keywords:

  • ghrelin;
  • long term potentiation;
  • phosphoinositide 3-kinase;
  • synaptic plasticity;
  • spatial memory

Abstract

Ghrelin, an orexigenic hormone, is mainly produced by the stomach and released into the circulation. Ghrelin receptors (growth hormone secretagogue receptors) are expressed throughout the brain, including the hippocampus. The activation of ghrelin receptors facilitates high-frequency stimulation (HFS)-induced long-term potentiation (LTP) in vitro, and also improves learning and memory. Herein, we report that a single infusion of ghrelin into the hippocampus led to long-lasting potentiation of excitatory postsynaptic potentials (EPSPs) and population spikes (PSs) in the dentate gyrus of anesthetized rats. This potentiation was accompanied by a reduction in paired-pulse depression of the EPSP slope, an increase in paired-pulse facilitation of the PS amplitude, and an enhancement of EPSP–spike coupling, suggesting the involvement of both presynaptic and postsynaptic mechanisms. Meanwhile, ghrelin infusion time-dependently increased the phosphorylation of Akt-Ser473, a downstream molecule of phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K). Interestingly, PI3K inhibitors, but not NMDA receptor antagonist, inhibited ghrelin-induced potentiation. Although ghrelin had no effect on the induction of HFS-induced LTP, it prolonged the expression of HFS-induced LTP through extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK)1/2. The Morris water maze test showed that ghrelin enhanced spatial memory, and that this was prevented by pretreatment with PI3K inhibitor. Taken together, the findings show that: (i) a single infusion of ghrelin induced a new form of synaptic plasticity by activating the PI3K signaling pathway, without HFS and NMDA receptor activation; (ii) a single infusion of ghrelin also enhanced the maintenance of HFS-induced LTP through ERK activation; and (iii) repetitive infusion of ghrelin enhanced spatial memory by activating the PI3K signaling pathway. Thus, we propose that the ghrelin signaling pathway could have therapeutic value in cognitive deficits.