Adult-generated hippocampal neurons allow the flexible use of spatially precise learning strategies

PLoS One. 2009;4(5):e5464. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0005464. Epub 2009 May 7.


Despite enormous progress in the past few years the specific contribution of newly born granule cells to the function of the adult hippocampus is still not clear. We hypothesized that in order to solve this question particular attention has to be paid to the specific design, the analysis, and the interpretation of the learning test to be used. We thus designed a behavioral experiment along hypotheses derived from a computational model predicting that new neurons might be particularly relevant for learning conditions, in which novel aspects arise in familiar situations, thus putting high demands on the qualitative aspects of (re-)learning.In the reference memory version of the water maze task suppression of adult neurogenesis with temozolomide (TMZ) caused a highly specific learning deficit. Mice were tested in the hidden platform version of the Morris water maze (6 trials per day for 5 days with a reversal of the platform location on day 4). Testing was done at 4 weeks after the end of four cycles of treatment to minimize the number of potentially recruitable new neurons at the time of testing. The reduction of neurogenesis did not alter longterm potentiation in CA3 and the dentate gyrus but abolished the part of dentate gyrus LTP that is attributed to the new neurons. TMZ did not have any overt side effects at the time of testing, and both treated mice and controls learned to find the hidden platform. Qualitative analysis of search strategies, however, revealed that treated mice did not advance to spatially precise search strategies, in particular when learning a changed goal position (reversal). New neurons in the dentate gyrus thus seem to be necessary for adding flexibility to some hippocampus-dependent qualitative parameters of learning.Our finding that a lack of adult-generated granule cells specifically results in the animal's inability to precisely locate a hidden goal is also in accordance with a specialized role of the dentate gyrus in generating a metric rather than just a configurational map of the environment. The discovery of highly specific behavioral deficits as consequence of a suppression of adult hippocampal neurogenesis thus allows to link cellular hippocampal plasticity to well-defined hypotheses from theoretical models.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Alkylating / pharmacology
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Dacarbazine / analogs & derivatives
  • Dacarbazine / pharmacology
  • Dentate Gyrus / physiology
  • Electrophysiology
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / drug effects
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques
  • Long-Term Potentiation
  • Maze Learning / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neurogenesis / drug effects
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Temozolomide


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Alkylating
  • Dacarbazine
  • Temozolomide