One major hallmark of Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the massive loss of synapses that occurs at an early clinical stage of the disease. In this study, we characterize alterations in spine density and the expression of synapse-associated immediate early gene Arc (activity-regulated cytoskeleton-associated protein) in the hippocampal CA1 regions of two different amyloid precursor protein (APP) transgenic mouse lines before plaque development and their connection to performance in hippocampus-dependent memory tests. The density of mushroom-type spines was reduced by 34% in the basal dendrites proximal to the soma of CA1 pyramidal neurons in 5.5-month-old Tg2576 mice, carrying the Swedish mutation, compared with wild-type littermates. A similar reduction of 42% was confirmed in the same region of 8-month-old APP/Lo mice, carrying the London mutation. In this strain, the reduction extended to the distal dendritic spines (28%), although no differences were found in apical dendrites in either transgenic mouse line. Both transgenic mice lines presented a significant increase in Arc protein expression in CA1 compared with controls, suggesting rather an overactivity and increased spine turnover that was supported by a significant decrease in number of somatostatin-immunopositive inhibitory interneurons in the stratum oriens of CA1. Behaviorally, the transgenic mice showed decrease freezing in the fear contextual conditioning test and impairment in spatial memory assessed by Morris water maze test. These data indicate that cognitive impairment in APP transgenic mice is correlated with impairment of synaptic connectivity in hippocampal CA1, probably attributable to loss of inhibitory interneurons and subsequent hyperactivity.
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