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Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2017 Oct;46:7-13. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2017.06.006. Epub 2017 Jul 12.

Intrinsic volatility of synaptic connections - a challenge to the synaptic trace theory of memory.

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Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Paris, France; Centre de Neurophysique, Physiologie et Pathologie (CNPP), Université Descartes, Paris, France.
Institute of Physiology, Focus Program Translational Neuroscience, University Medical Center, Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz, Germany.
Department of Neurobiology, The Federmann Center for the Study of Rationality and The Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel. Electronic address:


According to the synaptic trace theory of memory, activity-induced changes in the pattern of synaptic connections underlie the storage of information for long periods. In this framework, the stability of memory critically depends on the stability of the underlying synaptic connections. Surprisingly however, synaptic connections in the living brain are highly volatile, which poses a fundamental challenge to the synaptic trace theory. Here we review recent experimental evidence that link the initial formation of a memory with changes in the pattern of connectivity, but also evidence that synaptic connections are considerably volatile even in the absence of learning. Then we consider different theoretical models that have been put forward to explain how memory can be maintained with such volatile building blocks.

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