The peptide nociceptin (also named orphanin FQ) acts in the brain to produce various pharmacological effects, including hyperalgesia and hypolocomotion. The nociceptin receptor uses guanine-nucleotide-binding proteins to mediate the inhibition of adenylyl cyclase, the activation of potassium channels and inhibition of calcium channels. It has been shown using knockout mice that the nociceptin receptor is not required for regulation of nociceptive responses or locomotion activity, but modulates the auditory function. Here we show that mice lacking the nociceptin receptor possess greater learning ability and have better memory than control mice. Histological analysis revealed the expression of both the nociceptin precursor and the nociceptin receptor in the hippocampus, thought to take part in aspects of learning and memory. Moreover, the receptor-deficient mice showed larger long-term potentiation in the hippocampal CA1 region than control mice, without apparent changes in presynaptic or postsynaptic electrophysiological properties. These results show that the loss of the nociceptin receptor results in a gain-of-function mutation in both the memory process and the long-term potentiation mechanism in CA1, perhaps as a result of altered intracellular signal transduction systems in neurons.
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