Designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drug (DREADDs) are a novel tool with the potential to bidirectionally drive cellular, circuit, and ultimately, behavioral changes. We used DREADDs to evaluate memory formation in a hippocampus-dependent task in mice and effects on synaptic physiology in the dorsal hippocampus. We expressed neuron-specific (hSyn promoter) DREADDs that were either excitatory (HM3D) or inhibitory (HM4D) in the dorsal hippocampus. As predicted, hSyn– HM3D was able to transform a subthreshold learning event into long-term memory (LTM), and hSyn–HM4D completely impaired LTM formation. Surprisingly, the opposite was observed during experiments examining the effects on hippocampal long-term potentiation (LTP). hSyn–HM3D impaired LTP and hSyn–HM4D facilitated LTP. Follow-up experiments indicated that the hSyn– HM3D-mediated depression of fEPSP appears to be driven by presynaptic activation of inhibitory currents, whereas the hSyn– HM4D-mediated increase of fEPSP is induced by a reduction in GABAA receptor function. To determine whether these observations were promoter specific, we next examined the effects of using the CaMKIIα promoter that limits expression to forebrain excitatory neurons. CaMKIIα–HM3D in the dorsal hippocampus led to the transformation of a subthreshold learning event into LTM, whereas CaMKIIα–HM4D blocked LTM formation. Consistent with these findings, baseline synaptic transmission and LTP was increased in CaMKIIα–HM3D hippocampal slices, whereas slices from CaMKIIα–HM4D mice produced expected decreases in baseline synaptic transmission and LTP. Together, these experiments further demonstrate DREADDs as being a robust and reliable means of modulating neuronal function to manipulate long-term changes in behavior, while providing evidence for specific dissociations between LTM and LTP.
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