Relationship: 749



Hippocampal anatomy, Altered leads to Hippocampal Physiology, Altered

Upstream event


Hippocampal anatomy, Altered

Downstream event


Hippocampal Physiology, Altered

Key Event Relationship Overview


AOPs Referencing Relationship


Taxonomic Applicability


Term Scientific Term Evidence Link
rat Rattus norvegicus Moderate NCBI
mouse Mus musculus Moderate NCBI
human Homo sapiens Not Specified NCBI

Sex Applicability


Sex Evidence
Male High
Female High

Life Stage Applicability


Term Evidence
During brain development High

Key Event Relationship Description


The hippocampus is a highly integrated and organized communication and information processing network with millions of interconnections among its constitutive neurons (see Andersen et al, 2006). The neuronal spine is the primary site of action for synaptic interface between neurons. Although difficult to measure due to their small size, large number and variable shapes, changes in the frequency and structure of dendritic spines of hippocampal neurons has dramatic effects on synaptic physiology and plasticity (Harris et al., 1992). Anatomical integrity at a more macro-level is also essential for physiological function. The connectivity of axons emanating from one set of cells that synapse on the dendrites of the receiving cells must be intact for effective communication between neurons to be possible. Synaptogenesis is a critical step for neurons to be integrated into neural networks during development. Changes in the placement of cells within the network due to delays or alterations in neuronal migration, the absence of a full proliferation of dendritic arbors and spine upon which synaptic contacts are made, and the lagging of transmission of electrical impulses due to insufficient myelination will independently and cumulatively impair synaptic function.

Evidence Supporting this KER


The weight of evidence supporting the relationship between structural abnormalities in brain induced and altered synaptic function is moderate. There is no doubt that altered structure can lead to altered function. Many examples from knock out models, genetic mutations, prenatal alcohol, nutritional deficits demonstrate a correlative link between altered structure and impaired synaptic function within the hippocampus (Gil-Mohapel et al., 2010; Berman and Hannigan, 2000; Grant et al., 1992; Palop et al., 2010; Ieraci and Herrera, 2007). However, the scientific understanding of the causative and quantitative relationship between the two KEs is incomplete. 

Biological Plausibility


The biological plausibility of alterations in hippocampal structure having an impact on synaptic function and plasticity in brain is strong. Because synaptic transmission in the hippocampus relies on the integrity of contacts and the reliability of electrical and chemical transmission between pre- and post-synaptic neurons, it is well accepted that interference on the anatomical levels will very much impact the functional output on the neurophysiological level (Knowles, 1992; Schultz and Engelhardt, 2014). 

Empirical Evidence


Empirical support for this KER is rated as moderate. Numerous examples of a direct linkage between hippocampal anatomy and hippocampal physiology are evident in knock out or transgenic mouse models (eg., Lessman et al., 2011). Other data is derived from nutritional deficiencies, alcohol exposure, and hippocampal slice culture models (Berman and Hannigan, 2000; Ieraci and Herrera, 2007; Gilbert et al., 2016). Although several examples are evident to demonstrate direct linkages between alterations in hippocampal anatomy and disruptions in hippocampal physiology, there is not a mechanism, anatomical insult, or signature pattern of synaptic impairment that accompanies each of these treatments.

Below are a few examples where direct linkages have been reported and they serve to bear witness to a direct relationship between altered hippocampal anatomy and altered hippocampal physiology.

Fyn is a tyrosine kinase gene involved in synaptic plasticity. Mutations of this gene lead to a lack of expression during development and result in an increase in the number of neurons in the dentate gyrus and CA subfields of the hippocampus. Fyn mutant mice also exhibited impairments in long term potentiation in hippocampal CA1 whereas two other forms of short-term plasticity remained intact (Grant et al., 1992).

Neuroregluin-2 (NRG2) is a growth factor and is highly expressed in the hippocampal dentate where it contributes to synaptogenesis of newborn granule cells. In hippocampal slice cultures, inducible microRNA targeting strategies have demonstrated suppression of NRG2 reduced synaptogenesis of inhibitory neurons and impaired dendritic outgrowth and maturation of glutamatergic synapses. These anatomical alterations were accompanied by reductions in the amplitude of excitatory synaptic currents. The magnitude of the impairment was dependent on the timing of the infection and could be eliminated with overexpression of NRG2 in this in vitro model (Lee et al., 2015).

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) activation of CREB-activated gene expression plays a documented role in hippocampal synapogenesis, dendrite formation, and synaptic plasticity in the developing and adult nervous system (Lessmann et al., 2011; Panja and Bramham, 2014). Jacob is a protein that translocates to the nucleus upon activation of BDNF-dependent pathways and is involved in both neuronal plasticity and neurodegeneration. Hippocampal neurons in culture derived from Jacob/Nsmf knockout mice exhibit shorter neurite length, reduced branching, and a few synaptic contacts. This effect was specific to hippocampal neurons, as cortical cells derived from the same animals did not display these abnormalities. In vivo, these animals exhibited a reduction of dendritic complexity of CA1 neurons, lower number of branches, decreased spine density.  Deficits in synaptic plasticity in the form of LTP accompanied these structural impairments (Spilker et al., 2016).

In Alzheimer’s Disease, amyloid-b protein accumulates in the hippocampus and leads to the formation of amyloid plaques, neuritic dystrophy and aberrant sprouting of axon terminals of the hippocampus. In a developmental germ-line knockout mouse model, high levels of amyloid-b induced aberrant neuronal network excitability and altered innervation of inhibitory interneurons.  Deficits in hippocampal plasticity were seen in the dentate gyrus without change in basal levels of synaptic transmission. In contrast, in area CA1, synaptic transmission was impaired while measures of synaptic plasticity remained intact (Palop et al., 2007).

Other evidence for a direct linkage between hippocampal anatomy and hippocampal physiology comes from the area of adult neurogenesis. The neurogenesis process refers to the acquisition of new neurons on the hippocampus of the adult brain and is associated with enhanced hippocampal synaptic function and learning ability (Deng et al., 2010). Manipulations such as caloric restriction, exercise and hormones can enhance neurogenesis and increase synaptic transmission and plasticity (Kapoor et al., 2015; Trivino-Paredes et al., 2016; Deng et al., 2010). A reciprocal relationship also exists whereby increases in hippocampal neural activity serves to increase neurogenesis (Bruel-Jungerman et al., 2007, Bruel-Jungerman et al., 2009, Kameda et al., 2012). Manipulations that decrease hippocampal neurogenesis including exposure to antidepressants, hormone disruption, stress, and alcohol are associated with impaired synaptic function (Herrera et al., 2003; Saxe et al., 2006; Gilbert et al., 2016; Montero-Pedrazuela et al., 2006; Gil-Mohapel et al., 2006; Sofroniew et al., 2006).

Temporal Evidence: The temporal nature of this KER is developmental (Seed et al., 2005). This has been demonstrated in multiple studies. A few examples detailed above defined critical periods for the manipulation that alters the structural development of the hippocampus that persists to adulthood to disrupt the synaptic physiology measured in the hippocampus in adulthood (Lee et al., 2015; Grant et al., 1992).  A more limited number of ‘rescue’ experiments have been reported.  Lee et al (2015), using an in vitro model, demonstrated impaired synaptogenesis that was dependent on the timing of the infection and could be eliminated with overexpression of NRG2. In Spliker et al (2016), BDNF application rescued the morphological deficits in hippocampal pyramidal neurons from Jacob/Nsmf mice.

Dose-Response Evidence: Dose-response data is lacking for this KER. For future research, it is critical to generate data in which the upstream KE is modulated in a ‘dose-response’ manner to better support the causative relationship.

Uncertainties and Inconsistencies


There are no inconsistencies in this KER, but there are uncertainties. Although several examples are evident to demonstrate direct linkages between alterations in hippocampal anatomy and disruptions in hippocampal physiology, there is not a common cellular mechanism, anatomical insult, or signature pattern of synaptic impairment that defines a common anatomically driven physiological phenotype.  In addition, it is also known that there is an interaction between physiological and anatomical development, where anatomy develops first, and can be ‘reshaped’ by the ongoing maturation of physiological function (e.g., Kutsarova et al., 2017)

Quantitative Understanding of the Linkage


Response-response Relationship


Information does not exist to develop quantitative relationships between the KEs in this KER. Papers that utilize knock-out and mutant models have not provided ‘dose-response’ information for anatomy-physiology relationships.



Known modulating factors


Known Feedforward/Feedback loops influencing this KER


Domain of Applicability


The majority of data in support of this KER is from rodent models. The evolutionary conservation of hippocampal anatomy in mammals, birds, and reptiles (see Hevner, 2016; Streidter, 2015) suggests, with some uncertainty, that this KER is also applicable to multiple species.



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