Synaptic plasticity: a unifying model to address some persisting questions

Int J Neurosci. 2011 Jun;121(6):289-304. doi: 10.3109/00207454.2011.556283. Epub 2011 Feb 25.


Since it was first observed, synaptic plasticity has been considered as the experimental paradigm most likely to provide us with an understanding of how information is stored in the vertebrate brain. Various types have been demonstrated over these past 45 years, most notably long-term potentiation and long-term depression, and their established characteristics as well as their induction and consolidation requirements are highly indicative of this plasticity being the substrate for skills acquisition and mnemonic engraving. The molecular, biochemical, and structural models that have been proposed in the past, although most accommodate some aspect of synaptic plasticity observations, admittedly cannot offer a universally functional connection between all the phenomena that surround and result in the different modifications of synaptic efficacy. As a result, there are a number of persisting questions. In an attempt toward synthesis, we reviewed the most important studies in the field and believe that we can now propose a unifying Model for synaptic plasticity that can accommodate the experimental evidence and reconcile most of the contradictions. Moreover, from this model emerge potential answers to several unyielding questions, namely, accounting for the induction and expression of long-term depression, identifying the plasticity switch, offering a possible explanation for the sliding modification threshold, and proposing a new mechanism for synaptic tagging.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium Signaling / physiology
  • Dendritic Spines / metabolism
  • Dendritic Spines / physiology
  • Humans
  • Long-Term Potentiation / physiology
  • Long-Term Synaptic Depression / physiology
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*