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Synapse remodeling in learning and memory formation

Updated: Sep 28, 2020

Synapses are the principal sites at which neurons contact and communicate with one another. Experience-dependent modification of synaptic structure and function provides a cellular mechanism for learning and memory. My lab studies how the neuronal circuitry is established during development, and how it is rewired during learning and memory formation. We have established several mouse behavioral paradigms and investigated temporal and spatial changes of synapses during learning. We showed that learning a novel motor task leads to rapid emergence of new synapses on pyramidal neurons in the motor cortex. Repetition of a task stabilizes these learning-induced synapses, which persist long after training terminates, suggesting a structural basis for durable motor memory. We also found that synapses that emerge during repetitions of the same motor task tend to cluster along dendrites, while synapses formed during tandem execution of different motor tasks do not, suggesting that the distribution of synapses is actively regulated in vivo and memory traces for different motor tasks are spatially segregated. We also show learning-induced synaptic reorganization happens to distinct neuronal circuits.


To complement investigations into the structural basis of learning and memory, we have recently incorporated both functional study and circuit mapping to better understand the brain circuitry underlying motor learning. Our ongoing projects study the functional roles of learning-associated synapses and how neurons integrate synaptic inputs to generate behavioral outputs. Furthermore, we try to understand how the synaptic machinery deteriorates with aging and in neurological disorders.


Example Papers

  • Xu T, Yu X, Perlik A, Tobin W, Zweig J, Tennant K, Jones T and Zuo Y (2009) Rapid formation and selective stabilization of synapses for enduring motor memories. Nature 462:915-919

  • Fu M, Yu X, Lu J and Zuo Y (2012) Learning induces clustered dendritic spine formation in vivo. Nature 483:82-95

  • Yang Y, Liu DQ, Huang W, Deng J, Sun Y, Zuo Y and Poo MM (2016) Selective synaptic remodeling of amygdalocortical connections associated with fear memory. Nat. Neurosci. 19(10):1348-55

  • Tjia M, Yu X, Jammu LS, Lu J and Zuo Y (2017) Pyramidal neurons in different cortical layers exhibit distinct dynamics and plasticity of apical dendritic spines. Front. Neural Circuits 11:43

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