Neurons are born and become a functional part of the synaptic circuitry in adult brains. The proliferative phase of neurogenesis has been extensively reviewed. We therefore focus this review on a few topics addressing the functional role of adult-generated newborn neurons in the dentate gyrus. We discuss the evidence for a link between neurogenesis and behavior. We then describe the steps in the integration of newborn neurons into a functioning mature synaptic circuit. Given the profound effects of neural activity on the differentiation and integration of newborn neurons, we discuss the role of activity-dependent gene expression in the birth and maturation of newborn neurons. The differentiation and maturation of newborn neurons likely involves the concerted action of many genes. Thus we focus on transcription factors that can direct large changes to the transcriptome, and microRNAs, a newly-discovered class of molecules that can effect the expression of hundreds of genes. How microRNAs affect the generation and integration of newborn neurons is just being explored, but there are compelling clues hinting at their involvement.
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