More than 3.17 million Americans are coping with long-term disabilities due to traumatic brain injury (TBI). Since most TBI research focuses on developing acute treatments to prevent or minimize long-term disabilities, chronic TBI survivors represent a large, underserved population. Chronic TBI survivors could significantly benefit from therapies that promote endogenous synaptic plasticity mechanisms. In both experimental models of TBI and in human TBI, previous studies have found that the hippocampus is highly vulnerable to brain injury. Although often not directly mechanically injured by the head injury, in the weeks to months following TBI, the hippocampus undergoes atrophy and exhibits deficits in long-term potentiation (LTP), a persistent increase in synaptic strength that is considered to underlie learning and memory. The overall objective of this grant proposal is to understand the molecular mechanisms that contribute to hippocampal-dependent LTP deficits and learning impairments in the weeks to months after TBI. Given the critical role of the hippocampus in forming declarative memories, we propose that identifying the molecular mechanisms that underlie the deficits in hippocampal LTP after TBI could provide therapeutic targets to improve hippocampal-dependent learning after TBI. To this end, our laboratory has found that activation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) and one of its downstream effectors, the transcription factor cAMP-response element binding protein (CREB), is significantly impaired in the hippocampus from 2 weeks to 3 months after TBI. ERK and CREB are required for long-lasting forms of LTP as well as hippocampal-dependent memory formation. Thus, we hypothesize that a pharmacological treatment which stimulates ERK activation in the hippocampus will improve hippocampal- dependent learning deficits at chronic time points after TBI. Indeed, our preliminary data demonstrate that there are deficits in the activation of ERK in TBI animals after a hippocampal learning task and that this can be rescued with a phosphodiesterase inhibitor. Furthermore, when animals at 3 months after TBI receive a phosphodiesterase inhibitor prior to training, hippocampal-dependent learning deficits are ameliorated when assessed using the Morris water maze task and contextual fear conditioning.
In Aim 1, we will identify the underlying molecular mechanisms that contribute to the deficits in ERK and CREB activation in the hippocampal after TBI.
In Aim 2, we will test the hypothesis that increasing ERK and CREB activation will rescue hippocampal LTP after TBI.
In Aim 3, we will determine if increasing ERK and CREB activation improves hippocampal-dependent learning deficits after TBI. This project is highly supported by an established group of investigators who provide expertise in the molecular mechanisms of hippocampal-dependent LTP, learning and memory, and TBI. The proposed studies will provide new insights into the molecular mechanisms of hippocampal-dependent learning impairments after TBI, and develop therapeutic strategies to improve hippocampal-dependent learning for chronic TBI survivors.
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a major cause of disability in the United States. There are currently no treatments to improve learning and memory functioning in chronically disabled TBI survivors. This grant will identify the biochemical mechanisms that underlie learning and memory disabilities after TBI and investigate whether an FDA-approved drug can restore learning and memory functioning in the weeks to months after TBI.
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