Using immediate-early genes to map hippocampal subregional functions

Learn Mem. 2007 Nov 14;14(11):758-70. doi: 10.1101/lm.698107. Print 2007 Nov.


Different functions have been suggested for the hippocampus and its subdivisions along both transversal and longitudinal axes. Expression of immediate-early genes (IEGs) has been used to map specific functions onto neuronal activity in different areas of the brain including the hippocampus (IEG imaging). Here we review IEG studies on hippocampal functional dissociations with a particular focus on the CA3 subregion. We first discuss the cellular functions of IEGs and the brain system interactions that govern their dynamic expression in hippocampal neurons to provide a more solid framework for interpreting the findings from IEG studies. We show the pitfalls and shortcomings of conventional IEG imaging studies and describe advanced methods using IEGs for imaging of neuronal activity or functional intervention. We review the current IEG evidence of hippocampal function, subregional-specific contribution to different stages of memory formation, systems consolidation, functional dissociation between memory and anxiety/behavioral inhibition along the septotemporal axis, and different neural network properties of hippocampal subregions. In total, IEG studies provide support for (1) the role of the hippocampus in spatial and contextual learning and memory, (2) its role in continuous encoding of ongoing experience, (3) septotemporal dissociations between memory and anxiety, and (4) a dynamic relationship between pattern separation and pattern completion in the CA3 subregion. In closing, we provide a framework for how cutting-edge IEG imaging and intervention techniques will likely contribute to better understanding of the specific functions of CA3 and other hippocampal subregions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Genes, Immediate-Early / physiology*
  • Hippocampus / anatomy & histology
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / genetics*