Genetic blockade of the dopamine D<inf>3</inf> receptor enhances hippocampal expression of PACAP and receptors and alters their cortical distribution

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Journal Article
Neuroscience, 2016, 316 pp. 279 - 295
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© 2015 IBRO. Dopamine D3 receptors (D3Rs) are implicated in several aspects of cognition, but their role in aversive conditioning has only been marginally uncovered. Investigations have reported that blockade of D3Rs enhances the acquisition of fear memories, a phenomenon tightly linked to the neuropeptide pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating peptide (PACAP). However, the impact of D3R ablation on the PACAPergic system in regions critical for the formation of new memories remains unexplored. To address this issue, levels of PACAP and its receptors were compared in the hippocampus and cerebral cortex (CX) of mice devoid of functional D3Rs (D3R-/-) and wild-types (WTs) using a series of comparative immunohistochemical and biochemical analyses. Morphometric and stereological data revealed increased hippocampal area and volume in D3R-/- mice, and augmented neuronal density in CA1 and CA2/3 subfields. PACAP levels were increased in the hippocampus of D3R-/- mice. Expression of PACAP receptors was also heightened in mutant mice. In the CX, PACAP immunoreactivity (IR), was restricted to cortical layer V in WTs, but was distributed throughout layers IV-VI in D3R-/- mice, along with increased mRNAs, protein concentration and staining scores. Consistently, PAC1, VPAC1 and VPAC2 IRs were variably redistributed in CX, with a general upregulation in cortical layers II-IV in knockout animals. Our interpretation of these findings is that disturbed dopamine neurotransmission due to genetic D3R blockade may enhance the PACAP/PAC1-VPAC axis, a key endogenous system for the processing of fear memories. This could explain, at least in part, the facilitated acquisition and consolidation of aversive memories in D3R-/- mice.
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