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Keywords:

  • α2C adrenoceptor;
  • long-term potentiation;
  • neocortex;
  • protein malnutrition;
  • visuo-spatial memory

Abstract

Mild reduction in the protein content of the mother's diet from 25 to 8% casein, calorically compensated by carbohydrates, does not alter body and brain weights of rat pups at birth, but leads to significant enhancements in the concentration and release of cortical noradrenaline during early postnatal life. Since central noradrenaline and some of its receptors are critically involved in long-term potentiation (LTP) and memory formation, this study evaluated the effect of mild prenatal protein malnutrition on the α2C-adrenoceptor density in the frontal and occipital cortices, induction of LTP in the same cortical regions and the visuo-spatial memory. Pups born from rats fed a 25% casein diet throughout pregnancy served as controls. At day 8 of postnatal age, prenatally malnourished rats showed a threefold increase in neocortical α2C-adrenoceptor density. At 60 days-of-age, α2C-adrenoceptor density was still elevated in the neocortex, and the animals were unable to maintain neocortical LTP and presented lower visuo-spatial memory performance. Results suggest that overexpression of neocortical α2C-adrenoceptors during postnatal life, subsequent to mild prenatal protein malnutrition, could functionally affect the synaptic networks subserving neocortical LTP and visuo-spatial memory formation.