Selective presynaptic terminal remodeling induced by spatial, but not cued, learning: A quantitative confocal study

R. McGonigal, N. Tabatadze, A. Routtenberg*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


The hippocampal mossy fibers (MFs) are capable of behaviorally selective, use-dependent structural remodeling. Indeed, we previously observed a new layer of Timm's staining induced in the stratum oriens (SO) in CA3 after spatial but not cued water maze learning (Rekart et al., (2007) Learn Mem 14:416-421). This led to the prediction that there is a learning-specific induction of presynaptic terminal plasticity of MF axons. This study confirms this prediction demonstrating, at the confocal level of analysis, terminal-specific, and behavior-selective presynaptic structural plasticity linked to long-term memory. Male adult Wistar rats were trained for 5 days to locate a hidden or visible platform in a water maze and a retention test was performed 7 days later. MF terminal subtypes, specifically identified by an antibody to zinc transporter 3 (ZnT3), were counted from confocal z-stacks in the stratum lucidum (SL) and the SO. In hidden platform trained rats, there was a significant increase in the number of large MF terminals (LMTs, 2.5-10 μm diameter, >2 μm2 area) compared to controls both in the proximal SL (P < 0.05) and in the SO (P < 0.01). Surprisingly, there was no detectable increase in small MF terminals (SMTs, 0.5-2 μm diameter, <2 μm2 area) in either SL or SO as a consequence of training. This distinction of the two MF terminal types is functionally important as LMTs synapse on CA3 pyramidal neurons, while SMTs are known to target inhibitory interneurons. The present findings highlight the pivotal role in memory of presynaptic structural plasticity. Because the "sprouting" observed is specific to the LMT, with no detectable change in the number of the SMT, learning may enhance net excitatory input to CA3 pyramidal neurons. Given the sparse coding of the MF-CA3 connection, and the role that granule cells play in pattern separation, the remodeling observed here may be expected to have a major impact on the long-term integration of spatial context into memory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1242-1255
Number of pages14
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2012


  • Hippocampus
  • Memory
  • Mossy fibers
  • Plasticity
  • ZnT3

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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