Successful memory involves not only remembering information over time, but also keeping memories distinct and less confusable. The computational process for making representations for similar input patterns more distinct from each other has been referred to as "pattern separation." In this work, we developed a set of behavioral conditions that allowed us to manipulate the load for pattern separation at different stages of memory. Thus, we provide experimental evidence that a brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)-dependent pattern separation process occurs during the encoding/storage/consolidation, but not the retrieval stage of memory processing. We also found that a spontaneous increase in BDNF in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus is associated with exposure to landmarks delineating similar, but not dissimilar, spatial locations, suggesting that BDNF is expressed on an "as-needed" basis for pattern separation.
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