The role of adult hippocampal neurogenesis in reducing interference.
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Adult neurogenesis in the hippocampal dentate gyrus plays an important role in learning and memory. However, the precise contribution of the new neurons to hippocampal function remains controversial. Emerging evidence suggests that neurogenesis is important for pattern separation and for mitigating interference when similar items must be learned at different times. In the present study, we directly test this prediction using a recently developed olfactory memory task that has those specific features. In this task, rats learn two highly interfering lists of odor pairs, one after the other, in either the same or in different contexts. Consistent with our hypothesis, focal cranial irradiation, resulting in selective reduction of neurogenesis within the dentate gyrus, significantly impaired the ability to overcome interference during learning of the second list. The ability to learn a single odor list was unimpaired. We also show that irradiation had no effect on learning in a hippocampal-dependent spatial alternation task. Although both tasks involved learning interfering responses, the time course for learning the interfering items differed. Learning the interfering odor lists took place sequentially, over the course of several sessions, whereas learning the interfering spatial locations took place concurrently, within each session. Thus, the gradual addition of new neurons may have provided a pattern separation mechanism for the olfactory task but not for the maze task. These findings demonstrate a role for neurogenesis in resolving interference and they are consistent with models suggesting a critical role for neurogenesis in pattern separation.
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