Differential effects of learning on neurogenesis: learning increases or decreases the number of newly born cells depending on their birth date

Mol Psychiatry. 2003 Nov;8(12):974-82. doi: 10.1038/sj.mp.4001419.


The hippocampal formation, to which new neurons are added on a daily basis throughout life, is important in spatial learning. Surviving de novo produced cells integrate into the functional circuitry, where they can influence both normal and pathological behaviors. In this study, we examined the effect of the water-maze (a hippocampal-dependent spatial task) on neurogenesis. Learning in this task can be divided into two phases, an early phase during which performance improves rapidly, and a late phase during which asymptotic levels of performance are reached. Here we demonstrate that the late phase of learning has a multifaceted effect on neurogenesis depending on the birth date of new neurons. The number of newly born cells increased contingently with the late phase and a large proportion of these cells survived for at least 4 weeks and differentiated into neurons. In contrast, late-phase learning decreased the number of newly born cells produced during the early phase. This decline in neurogenesis was positively correlated with performance in the water-maze. Thus, rats with the highest de novo cell number were less able to acquire and use spatial information than those with low numbers of new cells. These results show that learning has a complex effect on hippocampal neurogenesis, and reveals a novel mechanism through which neurogenesis may influence normal and pathological behaviors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Nervous System / cytology
  • Nervous System / growth & development*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley