Synapse formation is associated with memory storage in the cerebellum

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2002 Oct 1;99(20):13228-31. doi: 10.1073/pnas.202483399. Epub 2002 Sep 16.


The idea that memory is encoded by means of synaptic growth is not new. However, this idea has been difficult to demonstrate in the mammalian brain because of both the complexity of mammalian behavior and the neural circuitry by which it is supported. Here we examine how eyeblink classical conditioning affects synapse number within the cerebellum; the brain region essential for long-term retention of the conditioned response. Results showed eyeblink-conditioned rats to have significantly more synapses per neuron within the cerebellar interpositus nucleus than both explicitly unpaired and untrained controls. Further analysis showed that the increase was caused by the addition of excitatory rather than inhibitory synapses. Thus, development of the conditioned eyeblink response is associated with a strengthening of inputs from precerebellar nuclei rather than from cerebellar cortex. These results demonstrate that the modifications of specific neural pathways by means of synaptogenesis contributes to formation of a specific memory within the mammalian brain.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Blinking / physiology*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Cerebellum / physiology*
  • Cerebellum / ultrastructure
  • Humans
  • Memory*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Rats
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Time Factors