The p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase is involved in associative learning in rabbits

Xuechu Zhen, Wei Du, Anthony G. Romano, Eitan Friedman, John A. Harvey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study examined the role of the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) family during acquisition of the rabbit's classically conditioned eye-blink response. Eye-blink conditioning produced a significant, bilateral activation of both extracellular signal-regulated protein kinases (ERKs) and p38 MAPK in the anterior cerebellar vermis. There was also a significant bilateral activation of ERKs in the dorsal hippocampus with no change in p38 MAPK. These changes were seen at 2 min after the last conditioning session, were maintained for at least 180 min, and occurred without any change in the protein expression of either ERKs or p38 MAPK. There were no changes in ERKs or p38 MAPK in frontal cortex, in cerebellar hemispheral lobule VI, or in a section of brainstem containing the inferior olive. Moreover, the stress-related protein kinase Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK), another subfamily of MAPKs, was not altered in any of the brain regions examined. Animals receiving explicitly unpaired presentations of a conditioned stimulus and an unconditioned stimulus did not acquire conditioned responses (CRs) and did not demonstrate any changes in ERKs, p38 MAPK, or JNK. The intraventricular injection of SB203580, a selective p38 MAPK inhibitor, significantly retarded CR acquisition and blocked the learning-related increases in p38 MAPK activity in the anterior vermis. PD98059, a selective MAPK kinase inhibitor, had a smaller and only marginally significant effect on CR acquisition, although it did block the learning-related increases in ERK activity in both the hippocampus and anterior vermis. These results indicate that p38 MAPK is activated during associative learning and may play a role in the transcriptional events that lead to memory consolidation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5513-5519
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number15
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Associative learning
  • Cerebellum
  • Hippocampus
  • MAPKs
  • Signal transduction
  • Synaptic plasticity


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