Reliable activation of immature neurons in the adult hippocampus

PLoS One. 2009;4(4):e5320. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0005320. Epub 2009 Apr 28.


Neurons born in the adult dentate gyrus develop, mature, and connect over a long interval that can last from six to eight weeks. It has been proposed that, during this period, developing neurons play a relevant role in hippocampal signal processing owing to their distinctive electrical properties. However, it has remained unknown whether immature neurons can be recruited into a network before synaptic and functional maturity have been achieved. To address this question, we used retroviral expression of green fluorescent protein to identify developing granule cells of the adult mouse hippocampus and investigate the balance of afferent excitation, intrinsic excitability, and firing behavior by patch clamp recordings in acute slices. We found that glutamatergic inputs onto young neurons are significantly weaker than those of mature cells, yet stimulation of cortical excitatory axons elicits a similar spiking probability in neurons at either developmental stage. Young neurons are highly efficient in transducing ionic currents into membrane depolarization due to their high input resistance, which decreases substantially in mature neurons as the inward rectifier potassium (Kir) conductance increases. Pharmacological blockade of Kir channels in mature neurons mimics the high excitability characteristic of young neurons. Conversely, Kir overexpression induces mature-like firing properties in young neurons. Therefore, the differences in excitatory drive of young and mature neurons are compensated by changes in membrane excitability that render an equalized firing activity. These observations demonstrate that the adult hippocampus continuously generates a population of highly excitable young neurons capable of information processing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Electrophysiological Phenomena
  • Female
  • Glutamine / metabolism
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / genetics
  • Hippocampus / cytology*
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Potassium Channels, Inwardly Rectifying / metabolism
  • Recombinant Proteins / genetics


  • Potassium Channels, Inwardly Rectifying
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Glutamine
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins