Synaptic Plasticity and Memory
El-Gaby M., Shipton OA., Paulsen O.
All synapses are not the same. They differ in their morphology, molecular constituents, and malleability. A striking left–right asymmetry in the distribution of different types of synapse was recently uncovered at the CA3–CA1 projection in the mouse hippocampus, whereby afferents from the CA3 in the left hemisphere innervate small, highly plastic synapses on the apical dendrites of CA1 pyramidal neurons, whereas those originating from the right CA3 target larger, more stable synapses. Activity-dependent modification of these synapses is thought to participate in circuit formation and remodeling during development, and further plastic changes may support memory encoding in adulthood. Therefore, exploiting the CA3–CA1 asymmetry provides a promising opportunity to investigate the roles that different types of synapse play in these fundamental properties of the CNS. Here we describe the discovery of these segregated synaptic populations in the mouse hippocampus, and discuss what we have already learnt about synaptic plasticity from this asymmetric arrangement. We then propose models for how the asymmetry could be generated during development, and how the adult hippocampus might use these distinct populations of synapses differentially during learning and memory. Finally, we outline the potential implications of this left–right asymmetry for human hippocampal function, as well as dysfunction in memory disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.