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Med Sci (Paris). 2005 Apr;21(4):428-33.

[Brain synaptogenesis and epigenesis].

[Article in French]

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  • 1Laboratoire Récepteurs et cognition, Département des Neurosciences, Institut Pasteur, 25, rue du Docteur Roux, 75724 Paris Cedex 15. France.


Synaptic plasticity, or epigenesis, is present and varies throughout the whole life of the cerebral cortex. The adult synapse is formed of large and variable proteins assemblies acting as molecular switches leading to many distinct functional states. In the flow of activity circulating through the synaptic circuits, these multiple synaptic states transitions are modulated by the levels and sequences of activations of the pre- and post-synaptic domains. The efficiency of synaptic transmission is also modulated by competition and/or cooperativity with neighbouring synapses, and by many neuromodulations. Some transitions eventually lead to synaptogenesis. In the adult cerebral cortex, synaptogenesis remains a local event; axonal and dendritic arbors are not reshaped. On the contrary, during pre- and post-natal synaptogenesis, the same molecular mechanisms lead to a significant reorganization of the axonal and dendritic arbors. Early in the development, synapses are generated and differentiate under the control of robust mechanisms governed by genes. Then, during the critical periods, extending from the end of gestation to the end of puberty, the refinement of the synaptic architecture becomes experience-expectant. This "epigenetic opening" of synaptogenesis to environment is maximal in the human brain. It is the source of the exceptional cognitive adaptability of our species, and possibly one of its major fragility. Epigenetic manipulations of these critical periods are undertaken, allowing restoration of synaptic plasticity also in the adult brain.

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