This study is designed to characterize the signal cascades by which brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) modulates long-term memory of fear conditioning. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and Western blot analysis of tissue homogenates taken from fear-conditioned rats showed an increase in the amygdala of BDNF protein levels and its receptor TrkB phosphorylation. Bilateral administration of a TrkB ligand scavenger TrkB IgG and a Trk-specific tyrosine kinase inhibitor K252a to the amygdala impaired fear memory, as measured with fear-potentiated startle. Fear conditioning resulted in the association of Shc and TrkB, Shc and Ras, the increase in active Ras and phosphorylation of mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK). Treatment of amygdala slices with BDNF for 15 min increased the levels of active Ras, and MAPK and Akt phosphorylation. BDNF-induced MAPK phosphorylation was completely abolished by MEK inhibitors, and was partially inhibited by farnesyltransferase or phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase (PI-3 kinase) inhibitors. On the other hand, BDNF-induced Akt phosphorylation was unaffected by farnesyltransferase or MEK inhibitors, but could be blocked by PI-3 kinase inhibitors. Together, these data suggest a requirement of BDNF for fear learning. The memory-enhancing effect of BDNF involves the activation of MAPK and PI-3 kinase. BDNF-induced MAPK phosphorylation in the amygdala is mediated via TrkB and the Shc-binding site. Shc binding to TrkB leads to activation of Ras, Raf and MEK. In addition, BDNF could induce phosphorylation of MAPK via activation of PI-3 kinase.
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