The dentate gyrus (DG) is a region in the mammalian brain critical for memory encoding with a neuronal architecture and function that deviates considerably from other cortical areas. One of the major differences of the DG compared to other brain regions is the finding that the dentate gyrus generates new principal neurons that are continuously integrated into a fully functional neural circuit throughout life. Another distinguishing characteristic of the dentate network is that the majority of principal neurons are held under strong inhibition and rarely fire action potentials. These two findings raise the question why a predominantly silent network would need to continually incorporate more functional units. The sparse nature of the neural code in the DG is thought to be fundamental to dentate network function, yet the relationship between neurogenesis and low activity levels in the network remains largely unknown. Clues to the functional role of new neurons come from inquiries at the cellular as well as the behavioral level. Few studies have bridged the gap between these levels of inquiry by considering the role of young neurons within the complex dentate network during distinct stages of memory processing. We will review and discuss from a network perspective, the functional role of immature neurons and how their unique cellular properties can modulate the dentate network in memory guided behaviors.
Keywords: dentate gyrus; inhibition; neurogenesis; pattern separation; sparse coding.