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Neuronal network function, Decreased leads to Impairment, Learning and memory
Key Event Relationship Overview
AOPs Referencing Relationship
Life Stage Applicability
|During brain development||High|
Key Event Relationship Description
Learning and memory is one of the outcomes of the functional expression of neurons and neural networks from mammalian to invertebrates. Damage or destruction of neurons by chemical compounds during development when they are in the process of synapses formation, integration and formation of neural networks, will derange the organization and function of these networks, thereby setting the stage for subsequent impairment of learning and memory. Exposure to the potential developmental toxicants during neuronal differentiation and synaptogenesis will increase risk of functional neuronal network damage leading to learning and memory impairment.
Impairments in learning and memory are measured using behavioral techniques. It is well accepted that these alterations in behavior are the result of structural or functional changes in neurocircuitry. Functional impairments are often measured using field potentials of critical synaptic circuits in hippocampus and cortex. A number of studies have been performed in rodent models that reveal deficits in both excitatory and inhibitory synaptic transmission in the hippocampus as a result of developmental thyroid insufficiency (Wang et al., 2012; Oerbeck et al., 2003; Wheeler et al., 2011; Wheeler et al., 2015; Willoughby et al., 2014; Davenport and Dorcey, 1972; Tamasy et al., 1986; Akaike, 1991; Axelstad et al., 2008; Gilbert and Sui, 2006; Gilbert et al., 2016; Gilbert, 2011; Gilbert et al., 2016). A well-established functional readout of memory at the synaptic level is known as long-term potentiation (LTP) (i.e., a persistent strengthening of synapses based on recent patterns of activity). Deficiencies in LTP are generally regarded as potential substrates of learning and memory impairments. In rodent models where synaptic function is impaired by TH deficiencies, deficits in hippocampus-mediated memory are also prevalent (Gilbert and Sui, 2006; Gilbert et al., 2016; Gilbert, 2011; Gilbert et al., 2016).
Evidence Supporting this KER
A number of studies have consistently reported alterations in synaptic transmission resulting from developmental TH disruption, and leading to decreased cognition.
Long-term potentiation (LTP) is a long-lasting increase in synaptic efficacy (not always and not always high frequency stimulation leads to LTP), and its discovery suggested that changes in synaptic strength could provide the substrate for learning and memory (reviewed in Lynch, 2004). Moreover, LTP is intimately related to the theta rhythm, an oscillation long associated with learning. Learning-induced enhancement in neuronal excitability, a measurement of neural network function, has also been shown in hippocampal neurons following classical conditioning in several experimental approaches (reviewed in Saar and Barkai, 2003).
On the other hand, memory requires the increase in magnitude of EPSCs to be developed quickly and to be persistent for few weeks at least without disturbing already potentiated contacts. Once again, a substantial body of evidence has demonstrated that tight connection between LTP and diverse instances of memory exist (reviewed in Lynch, 2004).
A review on Morris water maze (MWM) as a tool to investigate spatial learning and memory in laboratory rats also pointed out that the disconnection between neuronal networks rather than the brain damage of certain regions is responsible for the impairment of MWM performance. Functional integrated neural networks that involve the coordination action of different brain regions are consequently important for spatial learning and MWM performance (D'Hooge and De Deyn, 2001).
Moreover, it is well accepted that alterations in synaptic transmission and plasticity contribute to deficits in cognitive function. There are a number of studies that have linked exposure to TPO inhibitors (e.g., PTU, MMI), as well as iodine deficient diets, to changes in serum TH levels, which result in alterations in both synaptic function and cognitive behaviors (Akaike et al., 1991; Vara et al., 2002; Gilbert and Sui, 2006; Axelstad et al., 2008; Taylor et al., 2008; Gilbert, 2011; Gilbert et al., 2016), described in the indirect KER "Decrease of TH synthesis leads to learning and memory deficits".
Uncertainties and Inconsistencies
One of the most difficult issues for neuroscientists is to link neuronal network function to cognition, including learning and memory. It is still unclear what modifications of neuronal circuits need to happen in order to alter motor behaviour as it is recorded in a learning and memory test (Mayford et al., 2012), meaning that there is no clear understanding about the how these two KEs are connected.
Several epidemiological studies where Pb2+ exposure levels have been studied in relation to neurobehavioural alterations in children have been reviewed in Koller et al. 2004. This review has concluded that in some occasions there is negative correlation between Pb2+ dose and cognitive deficits of the subjects due to high influence of social and parenting factors in cognitive ability like learning and memory (Koller et al. 2004), meaning that not always Pb2+ exposure is positively associated with learning and memory impairment in children.
The direct relationship of alterations in neural network function and specific cognitive deficits is difficult to ascertain given the many forms that learning and memory can take and the complexity of synaptic interactions in even the simplest brain circuit. Linking of neurophysiological assessments to learning and memory processes have, by necessity, been made across simple monosynaptic connections and largely focused on the hippocampus. Alterations in synaptic function have been found in the absence of behavioral impairments. This may result from measuring only one component in the complex brain circuitry that underlies 'cognition', behavioral tests that are not sufficiently sensitive for the detection of subtle cognitive impairments, and behavioral plasticity whereby tasks are solved by the animal via different strategies developed as a consequence of developmental insult.
Finally, in order to provide empirical support for this KER, data on the effects of lead (Pb) exposure are reported. However, Pb exposure is not always associated with learning and memory impairment in children. In this regard, Koller's review has commented that in some occasions, low-level Pb dose and cognitive deficits of the subjects are negatively correlated, and this may be due to the high influence of social and parenting factors in cognitive ability, like learning and memory (Koller et al., 2004).
Olczak et al., 2001. Postnatal exposure of rats to Thimerosal (4 injections with 12, 240, 1440 and 3000 microgHg/kg per injection). Effects were measured in adult, which exhibited alterations in dopaminergic system with decline in the density of striatal D2 receptors, with a higher sensitivity for males. No alterations in spatial learning and memory was observed, but impairments of motor activity, increased anxiety (open fiel measurment), which are other symptoms of autism spectrum disorder.
Franco et al., 2006. Lactational exposure of mice to methylmercury in drinking water (10 mg/L). Analysis at weaning revealed only impairment in motor performances.
Franco et al., 2007. Lactational exposure of mice with mercury chloride (0.5 and 1.5 mg/kg, i.p. injection once a day).. At weaning , animals exhibited an increased level of mercury in cerebellum associated with motor deficit.
Cardenas et al., 2017 showed that maternal red blood cell mercury of 3.8 ng/g was associated to increased DNA methylation of PON1 in umbilical cord blood only in male and observed deficit in cognitive performances, such as visual motor ability, vocabiary and verbal intellgence.
Known modulating factors
Known Feedforward/Feedback loops influencing this KER
Domain of Applicability
Synaptic transmission and plasticity are achieved via mechanisms common across taxonomies. LTP has been recorded in aplysia, lizards, turtles, birds, mice, guinea pigs, rabbits and rats. Deficiencies in hippocampally based learning and memory following developmental hypothyroidism have been documented mainly in rodents and humans.
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