The tagging and capture hypothesis from synapse to memory

Prog Mol Biol Transl Sci. 2014;122:391-423. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-420170-5.00013-1.


The synaptic tagging and capture theory (STC) was postulated by Frey and Morris in 1997 and provided a strong framework to explain how to achieve synaptic specificity and persistence of electrophysiological-induced plasticity changes. Ten years later, the same argument was applied on learning and memory models to explain the formation of long-term memories, resulting in the behavioral tagging hypothesis (BT). These hypotheses are able to explain how a weak event that induces transient changes in the brain can establish long-lasting phenomena through a tagging and capture process. In this framework, it was postulated that the weak event sets a tag that captures plasticity-related proteins/products (PRPs) synthesized by an independent strong event. The tagging and capture processes exhibit symmetry, and therefore, PRPs can be captured if they are synthesized either before or after the setting of the tag. In summary, the hypothesis provides a wide framework that gives a solid explanation of how lasting changes occur and how the interaction between different events leads to promotion, reinforcement, or impairment of such changes. In this chapter, we will summarize the postulates of STC hypothesis, the common features between synaptic plasticity and memory, as well as a detailed compilation of the findings supporting the existence of BT process. At the end, we pose some questions related to BT mechanism and LTM formation, which probably will be answered in the near future.

Keywords: Behavioral tagging hypothesis; Long-term memory formation; Rodents and human beings; Synaptic and capture hypothesis; Synaptic plasticity and memory.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / genetics*
  • Synapses / physiology*