Adult Neurogenesis Conserves Hippocampal Memory Capacity

J Neurosci. 2018 Aug 1;38(31):6854-6863. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2976-17.2018. Epub 2018 Jul 9.


The hippocampus is crucial for declarative memories in humans and encodes episodic and spatial memories in animals. Memory coding strengthens synaptic efficacy via an LTP-like mechanism. Given that animals store memories of everyday experiences, the hippocampal circuit must have a mechanism that prevents saturation of overall synaptic weight for the preservation of learning capacity. LTD works to balance plasticity and prevent saturation. In addition, adult neurogenesis in the hippocampus is proposed to be involved in the down-scaling of synaptic efficacy. Here, we show that adult neurogenesis in male rats plays a crucial role in the maintenance of hippocampal capacity for memory (learning and/or memory formation). Neurogenesis regulated the maintenance of LTP, with decreases and increases in neurogenesis prolonging or shortening LTP persistence, respectively. Artificial saturation of hippocampal LTP impaired memory capacity in contextual fear conditioning, which completely recovered after 14 d, which was the time required for LTP to decay to the basal level. Memory capacity gradually recovered in parallel with neurogenesis-mediated gradual decay of LTP. Ablation of neurogenesis by x-ray irradiation delayed the recovery of memory capacity, whereas enhancement of neurogenesis using a running wheel sped up recovery. Therefore, one benefit of ongoing adult neurogenesis is the maintenance of hippocampal memory capacity through homeostatic renewing of hippocampal memory circuits. Decreased neurogenesis in aged animals may be responsible for the decline in cognitive function with age.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Learning many events each day increases synaptic efficacy via LTP, which can prevent the storage of new memories in the hippocampal circuit. In this study, we demonstrate that hippocampal capacity for the storage of new memories is maintained by ongoing adult neurogenesis through homoeostatic renewing of hippocampal circuits in rats. A decrease or an increase in neurogenesis, respectively, delayed or sped up the recovery of memory capacity, suggesting that hippocampal adult neurogenesis plays a critical role in reducing LTP saturation and keeps the gate open for new memories by clearing out the old memories from the hippocampal memory circuit.

Keywords: adult neurogenesis; hippocampus; learning and memory; memory capacity; synaptic plasticity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Avoidance Learning / drug effects
  • Avoidance Learning / physiology*
  • Avoidance Learning / radiation effects
  • Conditioning, Classical
  • Cranial Irradiation / adverse effects
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Electrodes, Implanted
  • Electroshock
  • Fear
  • Hippocampus / cytology
  • Hippocampus / drug effects
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Ibotenic Acid / toxicity
  • Long-Term Potentiation / drug effects
  • Long-Term Potentiation / radiation effects
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Neurogenesis* / drug effects
  • Neurogenesis* / radiation effects
  • Neurotoxins / toxicity
  • Physical Conditioning, Animal
  • Radiation Injuries, Experimental / physiopathology
  • Radiation Injuries, Experimental / psychology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar


  • Neurotoxins
  • Ibotenic Acid