This study focused on the effects of zinc oxide nanoparticles (nano-ZnO) on spatial learning and memory and synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus of young rats, and tried to interpret the underlying mechanism. Rats were randomly divided into four groups. Nano-ZnO and phosphate-buffered saline were administered in 4-week-old rats for 8 weeks. Subsequently, performance in Morris water maze (MWM) was determined, and then long-term potentiation (LTP) and depotentiation were measured in the perforant pathway to dentate gyrus (DG) in anesthetized rats. The data showed that, (1) in MWM, the escape latency was prolonged in the nano-ZnO group and, (2) LTP was significantly enhanced in the nano-ZnO group, while depotentiation was barely influenced in the DG region of the nano-ZnO group. This bidirectional effect on long-term synaptic plasticity broke the balance between stability and flexibility of cognition. The spatial learning and memory ability was attenuated by the alteration of synaptic plasticity in nano-ZnO-treated rats
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