The dentate gyrus is one of the only brain regions that continues its development after birth in rodents. Adolescence is a very sensitive period during which cognitive competences are programmed. We investigated the role of dentate granule neurons (DGNs) born during adolescence in spatial memory and compared them with those generated earlier in life (in embryos or neonates) or during adulthood by combining functional imaging, retroviral and optogenetic tools to tag and silence DGNs. By imaging DGNs expressing Zif268, a proxy for neuronal activity, we found that neurons generated in adolescent rats (and not embryos or neonates) are transiently involved in spatial memory processing. In contrast, adult-generated DGNs are recruited at a later time point when animals are older. A causal relationship between the temporal origin of DGNs and spatial memory was confirmed by silencing DGNs in behaving animals. Our results demonstrate that the emergence of spatial memory depends on neurons born during adolescence, a function later assumed by neurons generated during adulthood.
© 2021. The Author(s).