Learning and memory are specific cases of the brain’s ability to modify connections in response to altered input. The property of the brain that allows it to constantly adapt to change is termed plasticity and is a prominent feature not only of learning and memory in the adult, but also of brain development. Connections between neurons (synapses) that are frequently used become stronger, while those that are unstimulated gradually dwindle away. How does activity modify a synapse to make it ‘strong’, or cause the addition and elimination of synaptic connections? In the case of both developmental and adult plasticity, there is evidence that correlated neuronal activity induces expression of specific plasticity genes. The protein products of these genes then act to strengthen connections or locally remodel circuits through new synapse formation and elimination.
The Nedivi lab studies the cellular mechanisms that underlie activity-dependent plasticity in the developing and adult brain through studies of synaptic and neuronal remodeling, identification of the participating genes, and characterizing the cellular functions of the proteins they encode.