Is heterosynaptic modulation essential for stabilizing Hebbian plasticity and memory?

Nat Rev Neurosci. 2000 Oct;1(1):11-20. doi: 10.1038/35036191.


In 1894, Ramón y Cajal first proposed that memory is stored as an anatomical change in the strength of neuronal connections. For the following 60 years, little evidence was recruited in support of this idea. This situation changed in the middle of the twentieth century with the development of cellular techniques for the study of synaptic connections and the emergence of new formulations of synaptic plasticity that redefined Ramón y Cajal's idea, making it more suitable for testing. These formulations defined two categories of plasticity, referred to as homosynaptic or Hebbian activity-dependent, and heterosynaptic or modulatory input-dependent. Here we suggest that Hebbian mechanisms are used primarily for learning and for short-term memory but often cannot, by themselves, recruit the events required to maintain a long-term memory. In contrast, heterosynaptic plasticity commonly recruits long-term memory mechanisms that lead to transcription and to synpatic growth. When jointly recruited, homosynaptic mechanisms assure that learning is effectively established and heterosynaptic mechanisms ensure that memory is maintained.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aplysia / physiology*
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology*
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Long-Term Potentiation / physiology
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*


  • Neurotransmitter Agents