Event: 758

Key Event Title


Hippocampal Physiology, Altered

Short name


Hippocampal Physiology, Altered

Key Event Component


Process Object Action
chemical synaptic transmission abnormal

Key Event Overview

AOPs Including This Key Event




Level of Biological Organization


Biological Organization

Organ term


Organ term

Taxonomic Applicability


Term Scientific Term Evidence Link
human Homo sapiens Moderate NCBI
rat Rattus norvegicus Strong NCBI
mouse Mus musculus Strong NCBI

Life Stage Applicability


Life stage Evidence
During brain development Strong

Sex Applicability


Term Evidence
Female Strong
Male Strong

How This Key Event Works


The hippocampus functions as a highly integrated and organized communication and information processing network with millions of interconnections among its constitutive neurons. Neurons in the hippocampus and throughout the brain transmit and receive information largely through chemical transmission across the synaptic cleft, the space where the specialized ending of the presynaptic axon terminus of the transmitting neuron meets the specialized postsynaptic region of the neuron that is receiving that information (Kandell et al., 2012).

During development (see KE: Hippocampal anatomy, Altered), as neurons reach their final destination and extend axonal processes, early patterns of electrical synaptic activity emerge in the hippocampus. These are large fields of axonal innervation of broad synaptic target sites that are replaced by more elaborate but highly targeted and refined axonal projections brought about by activity-dependent synaptic pruning and synapse elimination.  This is a classic case of the interaction between physiological and anatomical development, where anatomy develops first, and can be ‘reshaped’ by physiological function (Kutsarova et al., 2017).

In the rat, excitatory processes are fully mature in area CA1 of hippocampus within 2 weeks of birth with inhibitory processes lagging begin by several weeks (Muller et al., 1989; Michelson and Lothman, 1988; Harris and Teyler, 1984). In hippocampal slices, inhibitory function in areaCA1s is first seen on postnatal day 5 and increases in strength at postnatal day 12 through 15.  In vivo studies fail to detect inhibition until postnatal day 18 with steady increase thereafter to adult levels by postnatal day 28. Synaptic plasticity in the form of long-term potentiation (LTP) is absent in the very young animal, only emerging about postnatal day 14, appearing to require the stability of both excitatory and inhibitory function to be established (Muller et al., 1989; Bekenstein and Lothman, 1991). These features of the maturation of hippocampal physiology are paralleled in dentate gyrus, but as with anatomical indices in the rat, the development of these physiological parameters lag behind the CA1 by about 1 week.

How It Is Measured or Detected


In animals, synaptic function in the hippocampus has been examined with imaging techniques, but more routinely, electrical field potentials recorded in two subregions of the hippocampus, area CA1 and dentate gyrus, have been assessed in vivo or in vitro from slices taken from naive or exposed animals. Field potentials reflect the summed synaptic response of a population of neurons following direct stimulation of input pathways across a monosynaptic connection. Changes in response amplitude due to chemical perturbations and other stressors (e.g., iodine deficiency, thyroidectomy, gene knockouts) is evidence of altered synaptic function. This can be measured in vitro, in vivo, or in hippocampal slices taken from treated animals (Gilbert and Burdette, 1995). The most common physiological measurements used to assess function of the hippocampus are excitatory synaptic transmission, inhibitory synaptic transmission, and synaptic plasticity in the form of long-term potentiation (LTP).

Excitatory Synaptic Transmission: Two measures, the excitatory postsynaptic potential (EPSP) and the population spike are derived from the compound field potential at increasing stimulus strengths. The function described by the relationship of current strength (input, I) and evoked response (output, O), the I-O curve is the measure of excitatory synaptic transmission (Gilbert and Burdette, 1995).

Inhibitory Synaptic Transmission: Pairs of stimulus pulses delivered in close temporal proximity is used to probe the integrity of inhibitory synaptic transmission. The response evoked by the second pulse of the pair at brief intervals (<30 msec) arrives during the activation of feedback inhibitory loops in the hippocampus. An alteration in the degree of suppression to the 2nd pulse of the pair reflects altered inhibitory synaptic function (Gilbert and Burdette, 1995).

Long Term Potentiation (LTP): LTP is widely accepted to be a major component of the cellular processes that underlie learning and memory (Malenka and Bear, 2004; Bramham and Messaoudi, 2005). LTP represents, at the synapse and molecular level, the coincident firing of large numbers of neurons that are engaged during a learning event. The persistence of LTP emulates the duration of the memory. Synaptic plasticity in the form of LTP is assessed by delivering trains of high frequency stimulation to induce a prolonged augmentation of synaptic response. Probe stimuli at midrange stimulus strengths are delivered before and after application of LTP-inducing trains. The degree of increase in EPSP and PS amplitude to the probe stimulus after train application, and the duration of the induced synaptic enhancement are metrics of LTP. Additionally, contrasting I-O functions of excitatory synaptic transmission before and after (hours to days) LTP is induced is also a common measure of LTP maintanence (Bramham and Messaoudi, 2005; Kandell et al., 2012; Malenka and Bear, 2004).

Synaptic function in the human hippocampus has been assessed using electroencephalography (EEG) and functional neuroimaging techniques (Clapp et al., 2012). EEG is a measure of electrical activity over many brain regions but primarily from the cortex using small flat metal discs (electrodes) placed over the surface of the skull. It is a readily available test that provides evidence of how the brain functions over time. Functional magnetic resonance imaging or functional MRI (fMRI) uses MRI technology to measure brain activity by detecting associated changes in blood flow. This technique relies on the fact that cerebral blood flow and neuronal activation are coupled. Positron emission tomography (PET) is a functional imaging technique that detects pairs of gamma rays emitted indirectly by a radionuclide (tracer) injected into the body (Tietze, 2012; McCarthy, 1995). Like fMRI, PET scans indirectly measure blood flow to different parts of the brain – the higher the blood flow, the greater the activation (McCarthy, 1995). These techniques have been widely applied in clinical and research settings to assess learning and memory in humans and can provide information targeted to hippocampal functionality (McCarthy, 1995; Smith and Jonides, 1997; Willoughby et al., 2014; Wheeler et al., 2015; Gilbert et al., 1998).

Assays of this type are fit for purpose, have been well accepted in the literature, and are reproducible across laboratories. The assay directly measures the key event of altered neurophysiological function.

Evidence Supporting Taxonomic Applicability


The majority of evidence for this key event come from work in rodent species (i.e., rat, mouse). There is a moderate amount of evidence from other species, including humans (Clapp et al., 2012).

Evidence for Perturbation by Stressor



Bekenstein JW, Lothman EW. An in vivo study of the ontogeny of long-term potentiation (LTP) in the CA1 region and in the dentate gyrus of the rat hippocampal formation. Brain Res Dev Brain Res. 1991 Nov 19;63(1-2):245-

Bramham CR, Messaoudi E (2005) BDNF function in adult synaptic plasticity: the synaptic consolidation hypothesis. Prog Neurobiol 76:99-125.

Clapp WC, Hamm JP, Kirk IJ, Teyler TJ. Translating long-term potentiation from animals to humans: a novel method for noninvasive assessment of cortical plasticity. Biol Psychiatry. 2012 Mar 15;71(6):496-502.

Gilbert, M.E. and Burdette, L.J. (1995). Hippocampal Field Potentials: A Model System to Characterize Neurotoxicity. In Neurotoxicology: Approaches and Methods. L.W Chang and W. Slikker (Eds). Academic Press:New York, 183-204.

Gilbert ME, Mack CM. Chronic lead exposure accelerates decay of long-term potentiation in rat dentate gyrus in vivo. Brain Res. 1998 Apr 6;789(1):139-49.

Harris KM, Teyler TJ. Developmental onset of long-term potentiation in area CA1 of the rat hippocampus. J Physiol. 1984. 346:27-48.

Kandell, E., Schwartz, J., Siegelbaum, A. and Hudspeth, A.J.  (2012) Principles of Neural Science, 5th Edition.  Elsevier, North Holland.

Kutsarova E, Munz M, Ruthazer ES.  Rules for Shaping Neural Connections in the Developing Brain.  Front Neural Circuits. 2017 Jan 10;10:111. doi: 10.3389/fncir.2016.00111.

Malenka RC, Bear MF (2004) LTP and LTD: an embarrassment of riches. Neuron 44:5-21.

McCarthy, G. (1995) Review: Functional Neuroimaging and Memory. The Neuroscientist, 1:155-163.

Michelson HB, Lothman EW. An in vivo electrophysiological study of the ontogeny of excitatory and inhibitory processes in the rat hippocampus. Brain Res Dev Brain Res. 1989 May 1;47(1):113-22.

Muller D, Oliver M, Lynch G. Developmental changes in synaptic properties in hippocampus of neonatal rats. Brain Res Dev Brain Res. 1989 Sep 1;49(1):105-14.

Smith, E and Jonides, J. (1997). Working Memory: A View from Neuroimaging. Cognitive Psychology, 33:5-42.

Tietze, KJ. (2012). Review of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests- Positron Emission Tomography. In Clinical Sills for Pharmacists, 3rd Edition, pp 86-122. 

Wheeler SM, McLelland VC, Sheard E, McAndrews MP, Rovet JF (2015) Hippocampal Functioning and Verbal Associative Memory in Adolescents with Congenital Hypothyroidism. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne) 6:163.

Willoughby KA, McAndrews MP, Rovet JF (2014) Effects of maternal hypothyroidism on offspring hippocampus and memory. Thyroid 24:576-584.