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When is adult hippocampal neurogenesis necessary for learning? Evidence from animal research

Departamento de Psicobiología y Metodología de las CC, Universidad de Málaga, Campus de Teatinos, E-29071 Málaga, Spain.
Reviews in the neurosciences (Impact Factor: 3.31). 01/2011; 22(3):267-83. DOI: 10.1515/RNS.2011.027
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT The hippocampus is a key brain structure involved in the short- and long-term processing of declarative memory. Since adult hippocampal neurogenesis was first found, numerous studies have tried to establish the contribution of newborn neurons to hippocampus-dependent cognitive functions. However, this large amount of research has generated contradictory results. In this paper, we review the body of evidence investigating the relationship between hippocampal neurogenesis and learning to conclude the functional role of adult-born hippocampal neurons. First, factors that could explain discrepancies among experiments are taken into account. Then, in addition to methodological differences, we emphasize the importance of the age of the newborn neurons studied, as to how their maturation influences both their properties and potential functionality. Next, we discuss which declarative memory components could require involvement of adult hippocampal neurogenesis, taking into consideration the representational demands of the task, its difficulty and the level of performance reached by the subject. Finally, other factors that could modulate neurogenesis and memory, such as stress levels or previous experience of the animal, should also be taken into consideration in interpreting experiments focused on neurogenesis. In conclusion, our analysis of published studies suggests that new adult-born neurons, under certain circumstances, have a crucial and irreplaceable role in hippocampal learning.

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