The dentate gyrus is part of the hippocampal memory system and special in that it generates new neurons throughout life. Here we discuss the question of what the functional role of these new neurons might be. Our hypothesis is that they help the dentate gyrus to avoid the problem of catastrophic interference when adapting to new environments. We assume that old neurons are rather stable and preserve an optimal encoding learned for known environments while new neurons are plastic to adapt to those features that are qualitatively new in a new environment. A simple network simulation demonstrates that adding new plastic neurons is indeed a successful strategy for adaptation without catastrophic interference.
(c) 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.