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J Neurosci. 2010 May 5;30(18):6461-5. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0841-10.2010.

Long-term memory leads to synaptic reorganization in the mushroom bodies: a memory trace in the insect brain?

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Research Centre on Animal Cognition, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique-Université Paul-Sabatier, Unité Mixte de Recherche 5169, 31062 Toulouse cedex 04, France.


The insect mushroom bodies (MBs) are paired brain centers which, like the mammalian hippocampus, have a prominent function in learning and memory. Despite convergent evidence for their crucial role in the formation and storage of associative memories, little is known about the mechanisms underlying such storage. In mammals and other species, the consolidation of stable memories is accompanied by structural plasticity involving variations in synapse number and/or size. Here, we address the question of whether the formation of olfactory long-term memory (LTM) could be associated with changes in the synaptic architecture of the MB networks. For this, we took advantage of the modular architecture of the honeybee MB neuropil, where synaptic contacts between olfactory input and MB neurons are segregated into discrete units (microglomeruli) which can be easily visualized and counted. We show that the density in microglomeruli increases as a specific olfactory LTM is formed, while the volume of the neuropil remains constant. Such variation is reproducible and is clearly correlated with memory consolidation, as it requires gene transcription. Thus stable structural synaptic rearrangements, including the growth of new synapses, seem to be a common property of insect and mammalian brain networks involved in the storage of stable memory traces.

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