Paul Smolen

Publication Date



PLoS ONE. 2007; 2(5): e445.


Late long-term potentiation (L-LTP) denotes long-lasting strengthening of synapses between neurons. L-LTP appears essential for the formation of long-term memory, with memories at least partly encoded by patterns of strengthened synapses. How memories are preserved for months or years, despite molecular turnover, is not well understood. Ongoing recurrent neuronal activity, during memory recall or during sleep, has been hypothesized to preferentially potentiate strong synapses, preserving memories. This hypothesis has not been evaluated in the context of a mathematical model representing ongoing activity and biochemical pathways important for L-LTP. In this study, ongoing activity was incorporated into two such models - a reduced model that represents some of the essential biochemical processes, and a more detailed published model. The reduced model represents synaptic tagging and gene induction simply and intuitively, and the detailed model adds activation of essential kinases by Ca(2+). Ongoing activity was modeled as continual brief elevations of Ca(2+). In each model, two stable states of synaptic strength/weight resulted. Positive feedback between synaptic weight and the amplitude of ongoing Ca(2+) transients underlies this bistability. A tetanic or theta-burst stimulus switches a model synapse from a low basal weight to a high weight that is stabilized by ongoing activity. Bistability was robust to parameter variations in both models. Simulations illustrated that prolonged periods of decreased activity reset synaptic strengths to low values, suggesting a plausible forgetting mechanism. However, episodic activity with shorter inactive intervals maintained strong synapses. Both models support experimental predictions. Tests of these predictions are expected to further understanding of how neuronal activity is coupled to maintenance of synaptic strength. Further investigations that examine the dynamics of activity and synaptic maintenance can be expected to help in understanding how memories are preserved for up to a lifetime in animals including humans.


Calcium, Electric Stimulation, Humans, Long-Term Potentiation, Memory, Synapses