The neural cell adhesion molecule (NCAM) plays important roles in development of the nervous system and in synaptic plasticity and memory formation in the adult. The present study sought to further investigate the role of NCAM in learning by testing habituation and footshock sensitization learning of the startle response (SR) in NCAM null mutant (NCAM-/-) and wildtype littermate (NCAM +/+) mice. Whereas habituation is a form of non-associative learning, footshock sensitization is induced by rapid contextual fear conditioning. Habituation was tested by repetitive presentation of acoustic and tactile startle stimuli. Although NCAM-/- mice showed differences in sensitivity in both stimulus modalities, habituation learning was intact in NCAM-/- mice, suggesting that NCAM does not play a role in the mechanisms underlying synaptic plasticity in the startle pathway. Footshock sensitization was elicited by presentation of electric footshocks between two series of acoustic stimuli. In contrast to habituation, footshock sensitization learning was attenuated in NCAM-/- mice: the acoustic SR increase after the footshocks was lower in the mutant than in wildtype mice, indicating that NCAM plays an important role in the relevant brain areas, such as amygdala and/or the hippocampus.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Behavioral Neuroscience
- Acoustic startle
- Gene ablation