Olfactory associative discrimination: a model for studying modifications of synaptic efficacy in neuronal networks supporting long-term memory

Rev Neurosci. 2004;15(1):1-17. doi: 10.1515/revneuro.2004.15.1.1.


This review summarizes research that correlates behavioral performance and cellular physiology leading to modifications in the neuronal networks supporting long-term memory in the mammalian brain. Rats were trained in an olfactory associative discrimination task in which natural odors were replaced by mimetic olfactory stimulations. Olfactory learning induced synaptic modifications that affected behavioral performance along the central olfactory pathways. Starting with an early increase in monosynaptic efficacy in the dentate gyrus on the first session, a polysynaptic modification appeared later on in this hippocampal network, when rats began to make associations between cues and rewards. Therefore, only when rats made consistent associations did a long-term potentiation in the synapses of the piriform cortex pyramidal neurons appear. These modifications may correspond to the long-term storage of the meaning of the cue-reward association in a specific cortical area. Based on these cumulative results, a hypothesis is proposed to account for how, when, and where synaptic modifications in neural networks are required to constitute long-term memory.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cats
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology*
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Neural Networks, Computer
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Olfactory Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Olfactory Pathways / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Synapses / physiology*