Episodic memories in early childhood are rapidly forgotten, a phenomenon that is associated with "infantile amnesia," the inability of adults to remember early-life experiences. We recently showed that early aversive contextual memory in infant rats, which is in fact rapidly forgotten, is actually not lost, as reminders presented later in life reinstate a long-lasting and context-specific memory. We also showed that the formation of this infantile memory recruits in the hippocampus mechanisms typical of developmental critical periods. Here, we tested whether similar mechanisms apply to a nonaversive, hippocampal type of learning. We report that novel object location (nOL) learned at postnatal day 17 (PN17) undergoes the typical rapid forgetting of infantile learning. However, a later reminder reinstates memory expression. Furthermore, as for aversive experiences, nOL learning at PN17 engages critical period mechanisms in the dorsal hippocampus: it induces a switch in the GluN2A/2B-NMDA receptor ratio, and brain-derived neurotrophic factor injected bilaterally into the dorsal hippocampus immediately after training results in long-lasting memory expression. We conclude that in infancy the hippocampus plays a necessary role in processing episodic and contextual memories, including nonaversive ones, and matures through a developmental critical period.
© 2018 Travaglia et al.; Published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.