Nerve growth factor improves spatial learning and restores hippocampal cholinergic fibers in rats withdrawn from chronic treatment with ethanol
The cholinergic septohippocampal pathway has long been known to be important for learning and memory. Prolonged intake of ethanol causes enduring memory deficits, which are paralleled by partial depletion of hippocampal cholinergic afferents. We hypothesized that exogenous supply of nerve growth factor (NGF), known to serve as a trophic substance for septal cholinergic neurons, can revert the ethanol-induced changes in the septohippocampal cholinergic system. Adult rats were given a 20% ethanol solution as their only source of fluid for 6 months. During the first 4 weeks after the animals were withdrawn from ethanol, they were intraventricularly infused with either NGF or vehicle alone via implanted osmotic minipumps. The vehicle-infused withdrawn animals showed impaired performance on a spatial reference memory version of the Morris water maze task, both during the task acquisition and on the retention test. In contrast, NGF-treated withdrawn rats were able to learn the task as well as controls, and significantly outperformed the vehicle-infused withdrawn rats. The histological analysis revealed that, in the latter group, the length density of fibers immunoreactive to choline acetyltransferase was reduced relative to control values by approximately 25%, as measured in the dentate gyrus and regio superior of the hippocampal formation. However, in NGF-treated withdrawn rats, the length density of these fibers was identical to that of control rats. These data provide support to the notion that NGF is capable of ameliorating memory deficits and restoring septohippocampal cholinergic projections following chronic treatment with ethanol.
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