Early life experiences selectively mature learning and memory abilities

Nat Commun. 2020 Jan 31;11(1):628. doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-14461-3.


The mechanisms underlying the maturation of learning and memory abilities are poorly understood. Here we show that episodic learning produces unique biological changes in the hippocampus of infant rats and mice compared to juveniles and adults. These changes include persistent neuronal activation, BDNF-dependent increase in the excitatory synapse markers synaptophysin and PSD-95, and significant maturation of AMPA receptor synaptic responses. Inhibition of PSD-95 induction following learning impairs both AMPA receptor response maturation and infantile memory, indicating that the synapse formation/maturation is necessary for creating infantile memories. Conversely, capturing the learning-induced changes by presenting a subsequent learning experience or by chemogenetic activation of the neural ensembles tagged by learning matures memory functional competence. This memory competence is selective for the type of experience encountered, as it transfers within similar hippocampus-dependent learning domains but not to other hippocampus-dependent types of learning. Thus, experiences in early life produce selective maturation of memory abilities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / metabolism
  • Disks Large Homolog 4 Protein / metabolism
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / physiology
  • Learning*
  • Male
  • Memory*
  • Mice
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Receptors, AMPA / metabolism
  • Synapses / metabolism
  • Synaptophysin / metabolism


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Disks Large Homolog 4 Protein
  • Receptors, AMPA
  • Synaptophysin