Brain plasticity mechanisms and memory: a party of four

Neuroscientist. 2007 Oct;13(5):492-505. doi: 10.1177/1073858407302725.


A defining characteristic of the brain is its remarkable capacity to undergo activity-dependent functional and morphological remodeling via mechanisms of plasticity that form the basis of our capacity to encode and retain memories. Today, it is generally accepted that the neurobiological substrate of memories resides in activity-driven modifications of synaptic strength and structural remodeling of neural networks activated during learning. Since the discovery of long-term potentiation, the role of synaptic strengthening in learning and memory has been the subject of considerable investigation, and numerous studies have provided new insights into how this form of plasticity can subserve memory function. At the same time, other studies have explored the contribution of synaptic elimination or weakening; synaptogenesis, the growth of new synaptic connections and synapse remodeling; and more recently, neurogenesis, the birth and growth of new neurons in the adult brain. In this review, based on work in the hippocampus, the authors briefly outline recent advances in their understanding of the mechanisms and functional role of these four types of brain plasticity in the context of learning and memory. While they have long been considered as alternative mechanisms of plasticity underlying the storage of long-term memories, recent evidence suggests that they are functionally linked, suggesting the mechanisms underlying plasticity in the brain required for the formation and retention of memories are multifaceted.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / cytology
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Long-Term Potentiation / physiology
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Synapses / physiology*