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Associative learning increases adult neurogenesis during a critical period


Dr T. J. Shors, as above.


Learning increases the number of immature neurons that survive and mature in the adult hippocampus. One-week-old cells are more likely to survive in response to learning than cells in animals that are exposed to training but do not learn. Because neurogenesis is an ongoing and overlapping process, it is possible that learning differentially affects new cells as a function of their maturity. To address this issue, we examined the effects of associative learning on the survival of cells at different stages of development. Training did not alter the number of cells that were produced during the training experience. Cells that were 1–2 weeks of age at the time of training survived after learning but cells that were younger or older did not. In contrast, cells that were produced during training were less likely to survive than cells in untrained animals. Additionally, the number of cells that were generated after learning in trained animals was not different from the number in untrained animals. Finally, survival was not increased if the memory was expressed when the cells were about 1-week-old. Together, these results indicate that new neurons are rescued from death by initial acquisition, not the expression or reacquisition, of an associative memory and only during a critical period. Overall, these results suggest the presence of a feedback system, which controls how many new neurons become incorporated into the adult brain in response to learning.