Decreasing temperature shifts hippocampal function from memory formation to modulation of hibernation bout duration in Syrian hamsters

Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2011 Aug;301(2):R438-47. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00016.2011. Epub 2011 May 11.


Previous studies in hibernating species have characterized two forms of neural plasticity in the hippocampus, long-term potentiation (LTP) and its reversal, depotentiation, but not de novo long-term depression (LTD), which is also associated with memory formation. Studies have also shown that histamine injected into the hippocampus prolonged hibernation bout duration. However, spillover into the ventricles may have affected brain stem regions, not the hippocampus. Here, we tested the hypothesis that decreased brain temperature shifts the major function of the hippocampus in the Syrian hamster (Mesocricetus auratus) from one of memory formation (via LTP, depotentiation, and de novo LTD) to increasing hibernation bout duration. We found reduced evoked responses in hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons following low-frequency stimulation in young (<30 days old) and adult (>60 days old) hamsters, indicating that de novo LTD was generated in hippocampal slices from both pups and adults at temperatures >20°C. However, at temperatures below 20°C, synchronization of neural assemblies (a requirement for LTD generation) was markedly degraded, implying that de novo LTD cannot be generated in hibernating hamsters. Nonetheless, even at temperatures below 16°C, pyramidal neurons could still generate action potentials that may traverse a neural pathway, suppressing the ascending arousal system (ARS). In addition, histamine increased the excitability of these pyramidal cells. Taken together, these findings are consistent with the hypothesis that hippocampal circuits remain operational at low brain temperatures in Syrian hamsters and suppress the ARS to prolong bout duration, even though memory formation is muted at these low temperatures.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Animals
  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology*
  • Cold Temperature*
  • Cricetinae
  • Hibernation / physiology*
  • Hippocampus / cytology
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Mesocricetus / physiology*
  • N-Methylaspartate / metabolism
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Pyramidal Cells / physiology
  • Synaptic Potentials


  • N-Methylaspartate