Hippocampal plasticity mechanisms mediating experience-dependent learning change over time

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The requirement of NMDA receptor (NMDAR) activity for memory formation is well described. However, the plasticity mechanisms for memory can be modified by experience, such that a future similar learning becomes independent of NMDARs. This effect has often been reported in learning events conducted with a few days interval. In this work, we asked whether the NMDAR-independency is permanent or the brain regions and plasticity mechanisms of experience-dependent learning may change over time. Considering that contextual memories undergo a gradual reorganization over time, becoming progressively independent from the hippocampus and dependent upon cortical regions, we investigated the brain regions mediating a new related learning conducted at a remote time-point, when the first memory was already cortically established. First, we demonstrated that anterior cingulate cortex was not able to support a learning subsequent to a previous systems-level consolidated memory; it did require at least one functional subregion of the hippocampus (ventral or dorsal). Moreover, after replicating findings showing that a few days interval between trainings induces a NMDAR-independent learning, we managed to show that a learning following a longer interval once again becomes dependent on NMDARs in the hippocampus. These findings suggest that while the previous memory grows independent from the hippocampus over time, an experience-dependent learning following a systems-consolidated memory once again engages the hippocampus and a NMDAR-dependent plasticity mechanism.

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