Imprinting in chicks is a good model for elucidating the processes underlying neural plasticity changes during juvenile learning. We recently reported that neural activation of a telencephalic region, the core region of the hyperpallium densocellulare (HDCo), was critical for success of visual imprinting, and that N-Methyl-D-aspartic (NMDA) receptors containing the NR2B subunit (NR2B/NR1) in this region were essential for imprinting. Using electrophysiological and multiple-site optical imaging techniques with acute brain slices, we found that long-term potentiation (LTP) and enhancement of NR2B/NR1 currents in HDCo neurons were induced in imprinted chicks. Enhancement of NR2B/NR1 currents as well as an increase in surface NR2B expression occurred even following a brief training that was too weak to induce LTP or imprinting behavior. This means that NR2B/NR1 activation is the initial step of learning, well before the activation of alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methylisoxazole-4-propionate receptors which induces LTP. We also showed that knockdown of NR2B/NR1 inhibited imprinting, and inversely, increasing the surface NR2B expression by treatment with a casein kinase 2 inhibitor successfully reduced training time required for imprinting. These results suggest that imprinting stimuli activate post-synaptic NR2B/NR1 in HDCo cells, increase NR2B/NR1 signaling through up-regulation of its expression, and induce LTP and memory acquisition.
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