Gangliosides (sialic acid-containing glycosphingolipids) play important roles in many physiological functions, including synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus, which is considered as a cellular mechanism of learning and memory. In the present study, three types of synaptic plasticity, long-term potentiation (LTP), long-term depression (LTD) and reversal of LTP (depotentiation, DP), in the field excitatory post-synaptic potential in CA1 hippocampal neurons and learning behavior were examined in 1,4-N- acetylgalactosaminyltransferase (1,4 GalNAc-T; GM2/GD2 synthase) gene transgenic (TG) mice, which showed a marked decrease in b-pathway gangliosides (GQ1b, GT1b and GD1b) in the brain and isolated hippocampus compared with wild-type (WT) mice. The magnitude of the LTP induced by tetanus (100 pulses at 100 Hz) in TG mice was significantly smaller than that in control WT mice, whereas there was no difference in the magnitude of the LTD induced by three short trains of low-frequency stimulation (LFS) (200 pulses at 1 Hz) at 20 min intervals between the two groups of mice. The reduction in the LTP produced by delivering three trains of LFS (200 pulses at 1 Hz, 20 min intervals) was significantly greater in the TG mice than in the WT mice. Learning was impaired in the four-pellet taking test (4PTT) in TG mice, with no significant difference in daily activity or activity during the 4PTT between TG and WT mice. These results suggest that the overexpression of 1,4 GalNAc-T resulted in altered synaptic plasticity of LTP and DP in hippocampal CA1 neurons and learning in the 4PTT, and this is attributable to the shift from b-pathway gangliosides to a-pathway gangliosides.
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