Synaptic plasticity, memory and the hippocampus: a neural network approach to causality

Nat Rev Neurosci. 2008 Jan;9(1):65-75. doi: 10.1038/nrn2303.


Two facts about the hippocampus have been common currency among neuroscientists for several decades. First, lesions of the hippocampus in humans prevent the acquisition of new episodic memories; second, activity-dependent synaptic plasticity is a prominent feature of hippocampal synapses. Given this background, the hypothesis that hippocampus-dependent memory is mediated, at least in part, by hippocampal synaptic plasticity has seemed as cogent in theory as it has been difficult to prove in practice. Here we argue that the recent development of transgenic molecular devices will encourage a shift from mechanistic investigations of synaptic plasticity in single neurons towards an analysis of how networks of neurons encode and represent memory, and we suggest ways in which this might be achieved. In the process, the hypothesis that synaptic plasticity is necessary and sufficient for information storage in the brain may finally be validated.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology
  • Long-Term Potentiation / physiology
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Models, Neurological
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Synapses / physiology*