How do the physiological properties of new neurons translate to a behavioral role? Are they just like mature neurons or are they unique? One idea that’s been thrown around is that their plastic period, their critical period, might endow them with an enhanced ability to associate information and contribute to memory formation. While we know that hippocampal neurons are already plastic and very capable of physiologically linking together different stimuli the big hope seems to be that maybe immature neurons are even better at this.
A related question is how fewer synapses and unique inhibitory connectivity affects their information processing capabilities. The verdict is out on whether new neurons are more or less involved in information processing than their mature counterparts. Currently, the best information we have is from studies looking at activity, measured by immediate early gene expression, in response to behavioral stimulation. The true measure of whether a neuron is involved in information processing / representation is if it spikes, i.e. fires action potentials, in response to a specific stimulus. Since new neurons have fewer synapses it’s very possible that they aren’t able to represent many different types of information, and therefore aren’t capable of associating information during memory formation. On the other hand, new neurons synapses are more plastic, perhaps making them better able to associate information even if they have fewer synapses. Continue reading Enhanced integrative properties of immature neurons #sfn11