Micro-rewiring as a substrate for learning

Trends Neurosci. 2008 Nov;31(11):577-84. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2008.08.006. Epub 2008 Sep 23.


How does the brain encode life experiences? Recent results derived from vital imaging, computational modeling, cellular physiology and systems neuroscience have pointed to local changes in synaptic connectivity as a powerful substrate, here termed micro-rewiring. To examine this hypothesis, I first review findings on micro-structural dynamics with focus on the extension and retraction of dendritic spines. Although these observations demonstrate a biological mechanism, they do not inform us of the specific changes in circuit configuration that might occur during learning. Here, computational models have made testable predictions for both the neuronal and circuit levels. Integrative approaches in the mammalian neocortex and the barn owl auditory localization pathway provide some of the first direct evidence in support of these 'synaptic-clustering' mechanisms. The implications of these data and the challenges for future research are discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / cytology*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Dendritic Spines / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Synapses / physiology*