1. Functional role of adult neurogenesis
It was in the 1960´s when the first evidence emerged against Cajal´s dogma that new neurons cannot be produced in the adult brain. Since then it became widely accepted that new neurons are generated continuously in two regions of the mammalian brain: the olfactory bulb and the dentate gyrus in the hippocampus. In the dentate gyrus, adult-born neurons are derived from neural progenitors and go through different stages of morphological and physiological development before reaching maturity, a process that takes several weeks and is influenced by an animal´s experience. During a critical period of their development immature neurons provide the local circuitry with unique functional properties (high excitability, enhanced synaptic plasticity). Whether and how this remarkable form of cellular and physiological plasticity contributes to brain function is a central question in the field. Our current projects aim to characterize the contribution of newborn neurons to hippocampal function and experience-dependent plasticity, both in the adult and aged brain.