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Annu Rev Neurosci. 2000;23:649-711.

Synaptic plasticity and memory: an evaluation of the hypothesis.

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  • 1Department and Centre for Neuroscience, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom.


Changing the strength of connections between neurons is widely assumed to be the mechanism by which memory traces are encoded and stored in the central nervous system. In its most general form, the synaptic plasticity and memory hypothesis states that "activity-dependent synaptic plasticity is induced at appropriate synapses during memory formation and is both necessary and sufficient for the information storage underlying the type of memory mediated by the brain area in which that plasticity is observed." We outline a set of criteria by which this hypothesis can be judged and describe a range of experimental strategies used to investigate it. We review both classical and newly discovered properties of synaptic plasticity and stress the importance of the neural architecture and synaptic learning rules of the network in which it is embedded. The greater part of the article focuses on types of memory mediated by the hippocampus, amygdala, and cortex. We conclude that a wealth of data supports the notion that synaptic plasticity is necessary for learning and memory, but that little data currently supports the notion of sufficiency.

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