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Synaptic plasticity

In neuroscience, synaptic plasticity is the ability of synapses to strengthen or weaken over time, in response to increases or decreases in their activity.

Since memories are postulated to be represented by vastly interconnected networks of synapses in the brain, synaptic plasticity is one of the important neurochemical foundations of learning and memory (see Hebbian theory).

Plastic change often results from the alteration of the number of neurotransmitter receptors located on a synapse. There are several underlying mechanisms that cooperate to achieve synaptic plasticity, including changes in the quantity of neurotransmitters released into a synapse and changes in how effectively cells respond to those neurotransmitters. Synaptic plasticity in both excitatory and inhibitory synapses has been found to be dependent upon postsynaptic calcium release.

In 1973, Terje Lømo and Tim Bliss first described the now widely studied phenomenon of long-term potentiation (LTP) in a publication in the Journal of Physiology. The experiment described was conducted on the synapse between the perforant path and dentate gyrus in the hippocampi of anaesthetised rabbits. They were able to show a burst of tetanic (100 Hz) stimulus on perforant path fibres led to a dramatic and long-lasting augmentation in the post-synaptic response of cells onto which these fibres synapse in the dentate gyrus. In the same year, the pair published very similar data recorded from awake rabbits. This discovery was of particular interest due to the proposed role of the hippocampus in certain forms of memory.

  • Thornton, James K. (2003). "New LSD Research: Gene Expression within the Mammalian Brain". MAPS. 13 (1). 
  • Chapouthier, G. (2004). From the search for a molecular code of memory to the role of neurotransmitters: a historical perspective, Neural Plasticity, 11(3-4), 151-158
  • Hawkins, R.D., Kandel, E.R., & Bailey, C.H. (June 2006). Molecular Mechanisms of Memory Storage in Aplysia. Biological Bulletin, 210, 174-191.
  • LeDoux, Joseph. Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are. New York: Penguin Books, 2002. 1-324. Print.


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