Remodeling of hippocampal synapses after hippocampus-dependent associative learning

Yuri Geinisman*, John F. Disterhoft, Hans Jørgen G Gundersen, Matthew D. Mcechron, Inna S. Persina, John M. Power, Eddy A. Van Der Zee, Mark J. West

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Scopus citations


The aim of this study was to determine whether hippocampus-dependent associative learning involves changes in the number and/or structure of hippocampal synapses. A behavioral paradigm of trace eyeblink conditioning was used. Young adult rabbits were given daily 80 trial sessions to a criterion of 80% conditioned responses in a session. During each trial, the conditioned (tone) and unconditioned (corneal airpuff) stimuli were presented with a stimulus-free or trace interval of 500 msec. Control rabbits were pseudoconditioned by equal numbers of random presentations of the same stimuli. Brain tissue was taken for morphological analyses 24 hours after the last session. Synapses were examined in the stratum radiatum of hippocampal subfield CA1. Unbiased stereological methods were used to obtain estimates of the total number of synapses in this layer as well as the area of the postsynaptic density. The data showed that the total numbers of all synaptic contacts and various morphological subtypes of synapses did not change in conditioned animals. The area of the postsynaptic density, however, was significantly increased after conditioning in axospinous nonperforated synapses. This structural alteration may reflect an addition of signal transduction proteins (such as receptors and ion channels) and the transformation of postsynaptically silent synapses into functional ones. The findings of the present study indicate that cellular mechanisms of hippocampus-dependent associative learning include the remodeling of existing hippocampal synapses. Further studies examining various time points along the learning curve are necessary to clarify the issue of whether these mechanisms also involve the formation of additional synaptic contacts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-59
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 31 2000


  • Postsynaptic density
  • Rabbit hippocampus
  • Silent synapses
  • Structural synaptic plasticity
  • Trace eyeblink conditioning
  • Unbiased stereology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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