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Interregional synaptic maps among engram cells underlie memory formation

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Science  27 Apr 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6387, pp. 430-435
DOI: 10.1126/science.aas9204

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Memories are stored in synapses

Memory formation is thought to change the strength of synaptic connections between neurons. However, direct measurements between neurons that participate in a learning process are difficult to obtain. Choi et al. developed the “dual-eGRASP” technique to identify synaptic connections between hippocampal CA3 and CA1 pyramidal cells. This method could label two different sets of synapses so that their convergence on the same dendrites would be quantified. After contextual fear conditioning in mice, the number and size of spines were increased on CA1 engram cells receiving input from CA3 engram cells.

Science, this issue p. 430

Abstract

Memory resides in engram cells distributed across the brain. However, the site-specific substrate within these engram cells remains theoretical, even though it is generally accepted that synaptic plasticity encodes memories. We developed the dual-eGRASP (green fluorescent protein reconstitution across synaptic partners) technique to examine synapses between engram cells to identify the specific neuronal site for memory storage. We found an increased number and size of spines on CA1 engram cells receiving input from CA3 engram cells. In contextual fear conditioning, this enhanced connectivity between engram cells encoded memory strength. CA3 engram to CA1 engram projections strongly occluded long-term potentiation. These results indicate that enhanced structural and functional connectivity between engram cells across two directly connected brain regions forms the synaptic correlate for memory formation.

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