Programmed cell death or apoptosis is a highly regulated physiological process that is critical in development, particularly in the central nervous system. The DNA fragmentation factor 45 (DFF45 or ICAD) is a subunit of a heterodimeric DNase complex that is crucial for DNA fragmentation and normal apoptosis. To examine the neurobiological consequences of lacking DNA fragmentation and timely apoptosis during mouse development in vivo, we compared spatial learning behaviors in DFF45 mutant and wild-type control mice. We found that DFF45 mutant mice exhibit enhanced spatial learning and memory compared to wild-type mice. Moreover, both the granule cell density and total granule cell number in the hippocampal dentate gyrus region are higher in the DFF45 mutant brains than in the wild-type brains. We propose that the increase in granule cell number in the dentate region due to the DFF45 mutation changes the neuronal network underlying spatial learning and memory in DFF45 mutant mice. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V.