The neurogenic reserve hypothesis: what is adult hippocampal neurogenesis good for?

Trends Neurosci. 2008 Apr;31(4):163-9. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2008.01.002. Epub 2008 Mar 7.


Several theories have proposed possible functions of adult neurogenesis in learning processes on a systems level, such as the avoidance of catastrophic interference and the encoding of temporal and contextual information, and in emotional behavior. Under the assumption of such functionality of new neurons, the question arises: what are the consequences of adult hippocampal neurogenesis beyond the temporally immediate computational benefit? What might provide the evolutionary advantage of maintaining neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus but almost nowhere else? I propose that over the course of life, activity-dependently regulated adult neurogenesis reveals its true significance in the retained ability for lasting and cumulative network adaptations. The hippocampal precursor cells that generate new neurons with their particular acute function represent a 'neurogenic reserve': the potential to remain flexible and plastic in hippocampal learning when the individual is exposed to novelty and complexity.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Proliferation
  • Hippocampus / cytology
  • Hippocampus / growth & development*
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neurons / physiology*