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Keywords:

  • Addiction;
  • cell adhesion molecules;
  • cognition;
  • emotionality;
  • general cognitive ability;
  • impulsivity;
  • learning;
  • transgenic mice

Cell adhesion molecules, such as neuronal cell adhesion molecule (Nr-CAM), mediate cell–cell interactions in both the developing and mature nervous system. Neuronal cell adhesion molecule is believed to play a critical role in cell adhesion and migration, axonal growth, guidance, target recognition and synapse formation. Here, wild-type, heterozygous and Nr-CAM null mice were assessed on a battery of five learning tasks (Lashley maze, odor discrimination, passive avoidance, spatial water maze and fear conditioning) previously developed to characterize the general learning abilities of laboratory mice. Additionally, all animals were tested on 10 measures of sensory/motor function, emotionality and stress reactivity. We report that the Nr-CAM deletion had no impact on four of the learning tasks (fear conditioning, spatial water maze, Lashley maze and odor discrimination). However, Nr-CAM null mice exhibited impaired performance on a task that required animals to suppress movement (passive avoidance). Although Nr-CAM mutants expressed normal levels of general activity and body weights, they did exhibit an increased propensity to enter stressful areas of novel environments (the center of an open field and the lighted side of a dark/light box), exhibited higher sensitivity to pain (hot plate) and were more sensitive to the aversive effects of foot shock (shock-induced freezing). This behavioral phenotype suggests that Nr-CAM does not play a central role in the regulation of general cognitive abilities but may have a critical function in regulating impulsivity and possibly an animal’s susceptibility to drug abuse and addiction.