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Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Pharmacology & Toxicology

First Advisor

Dr. Aron H. Lichtman


A growing body of evidence implicates the importance of the endogenous cannabinoid 2-arachidonyl glycerol (2-AG) in memory regulation. The biosynthesis of 2-AG occurs primarily through the diacylglycerol lipases (DAGL-α and -β), with 2-AG serving as a bioactive lipid to both activate cannabinoid receptors and as a rate limiting precursor for the production of arachidonic acid and subsequent pro-inflammatory mediators. Gene deletion of DAGL-α shows decrements in synaptic plasticity and hippocampal neurogenesis suggesting this biosynthetic enzyme may be important for processes of normal spatial memory. Additionally, 2-AG is elevated in response to pathogenic events such as traumatic brain injury (TBI), suggesting its regulatory role may extend to conditions of neuropathology. As such, this dissertation investigates the in vivo role of DAGL-α and -β to regulate spatial learning and memory in the healthy brain and following neuropathology (TBI).

The first part of this dissertation developed a mouse model of learning and memory impairment following TBI, using hippocampal-dependent tasks of the Morris water maze (MWM). We found modest, but distinct differences in MWM performance between left and right unilateral TBI despite similar motor deficits, histological damage, and glial reactivity. These findings suggest that laterality in mouse MWM deficit might be an important consideration when modeling TBI-induced functional consequences. The second part of this dissertation work evaluated DAGL-β as a target to protect against TBI-induced learning and memory deficit given its selective expression on microglia and the role of 2-AG as a precursor for eicosanoid production. The gene deletion of DAGL-β did not protect against TBI-induced MWM or motor deficits, but unexpectedly produced a survival protective phenotype. These findings suggest that while DAGL-β does not contribute to injury-induced memory deficit, it may contribute to TBI-induced mortality. The third and final set of experiments investigated the role of DAGL-α in mouse spatial learning and memory under physiological conditions (given the predominantly neuronal expression of DAGL-α). Complementary pharmacological and genetic manipulations produced task specific impaired MWM performance, as well as impaired long-term potentiation and alterations to endocannabinoid lipid levels. These results suggest that DAGL-α may play a selective role in the integration of new spatial information in the normal mouse brain.

Overall, these data point to DAGL-α, but not DAGL-β, as an important contributor to hippocampal-dependent learning and memory. In contrast, DAGL-β may contribute to TBI-induced mortality.


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