Neurogenesis and pattern separation: time for a divorce
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The generation of new neurons in the adult mammalian brain has led to numerous theories as to their functional significance. One of the most widely held views is that adult neurogenesis promotes pattern separation, a process by which overlapping patterns of neural activation are mapped to less overlapping representations. While a large body of evidence supports a role for neurogenesis in high interference memory tasks, it does not support the proposed function of neurogenesis in mediating pattern separation. Instead, the adult-generated neurons seem to generate highly overlapping and yet distinct distributed representations for similar events. One way in which these immature, highly plastic, hyperactive neurons may contribute to novel memory formation while avoiding interference is by virtue of their extremely sparse connectivity with incoming perforant path fibers. Another intriguing proposal, awaiting empirical confirmation, is that the young neurons' recruitment into memory formation is gated by a novelty/mismatch mechanism mediated by CA3 or hilar back-projections. Ongoing research into the intriguing link between neurogenesis, stress-related mood disorders, and age-related neurodegeneration may lead to promising neurogenesis-based treatments for this wide range of clinical disorders. WIREs Cogn Sci 2017, 8:e1427. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1427 For further resources related to this article, please visit the WIREs website.
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