The hippocampus in aging and disease: From plasticity to vulnerability

Neuroscience. 2015 Nov 19;309:1-16. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2015.07.084. Epub 2015 Aug 1.


The hippocampus has a pivotal role in learning and in the formation and consolidation of memory and is critically involved in the regulation of emotion, fear, anxiety, and stress. Studies of the hippocampus have been central to the study of memory in humans and in recent years, the regional specialization and organization of hippocampal functions have been elucidated in experimental models and in human neurological and psychiatric diseases. The hippocampus has long been considered a classic model for the study of neuroplasticity as many examples of synaptic plasticity such as long-term potentiation and -depression have been identified and demonstrated in hippocampal circuits. Neuroplasticity is the ability to adapt and reorganize the structure or function to internal or external stimuli and occurs at the cellular, population, network or behavioral level and is reflected in the cytological and network architecture as well as in intrinsic properties of hippocampal neurons and circuits. The high degree of hippocampal neuroplasticity might, however, be also negatively reflected in the pronounced vulnerability of the hippocampus to deleterious conditions such as ischemia, epilepsy, chronic stress, neurodegeneration and aging targeting hippocampal structure and function and leading to cognitive deficits. Considering this framework of plasticity and vulnerability, we here review basic principles of hippocampal anatomy and neuroplasticity on various levels as well as recent findings regarding the functional organization of the hippocampus in light of the regional vulnerability in Alzheimer's disease, ischemia, epilepsy, neuroinflammation and aging.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; aging; hippocampus; neuroplasticity; subfield imaging; vulnerability.

Publication types

  • Editorial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Brain Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Hippocampus / anatomy & histology
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Hippocampus / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Neurogenesis / physiology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology