The extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK)/MAPK (mitogen-activated protein kinase) cascade has been established as a potent regulator of gene transcription in long-term memory formation, but the precise mechanisms of this regulation are poorly understood. ERK does not directly affect many of its nuclear targets, but rather must act through intermediary kinases. In this study, we investigated the role of mitogen- and stress-activated protein kinase 1 (MSK1), a nuclear kinase downstream of ERK, in chromatin remodeling during hippocampus-dependent memory formation. Mice lacking MSK1 show impaired Pavlovian fear conditioning and spatial learning, as well as a deficiency in histone phosphorylation and acetylation in the hippocampus after fear training. In addition, hippocampal slices from MSK1 knock-out mice exhibit a deficiency in both histone phosphorylation and acetylation after activation of the ERK pathway in vitro. In vivo injections of a histone deacetylase inhibitor, sodium butyrate, fail to alleviate the fear conditioning deficit in MSK1 knock-out mice. Finally, MSK1 knock-out mice demonstrate a deficiency in cAMP response element-binding protein (CREB) phosphorylation after fear training, which persists after sodium butyrate injection. This suggests that CREB phosphorylation and histone acetylation represent parallel targets of MSK1 function. Our study identifies MSK1 as an important regulator of chromatin remodeling in long-term memory.
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