Walters BJ, Zovkic IB
Neuroscience 2015 Aug;300:39-52
Memory formation is a protracted process in which recently acquired events are consolidated to produce stable and specific associations. Initially, newly acquired information undergoes cellular consolidation in the hippocampus, which transiently supports the storage of recently acquired memories. In contrast, remote, or “old” memories are maintained in the cortex and show almost complete independence from the hippocampus. Memories are transferred from the hippocampus to the cortex through a process termed systems consolidation. Emerging evidence suggests that recurrent activation, or “training” of the cortex by the hippocampus is vital to systems consolidation. This process involves prolonged waves of memory-related gene activity in the hippocampus and cortex long after the learning event has terminated. Indeed, molecular events occurring within hours and days of fear conditioning are essential for stabilizing and eventually transitioning the memory to the cortex. It is increasingly evident that molecular mechanisms that exhibit a capacity for prolonged activation may underlie systems consolidation. Processes that have the capacity to control protein abundance over long time scales, such as epigenetic modifications, are prime candidates for the molecular mechanism of systems consolidation. Indeed, recent work has established two types of epigenetic modifications as integral for systems consolidation. First, localized nucleosomal histone variant exchange and histone modifications are integral for early stages of systems consolidation, whereas DNA methylation appears to be utilized to form stable marks that support memory maintenance. Since systems consolidation also requires discrete and time-sensitive changes in protein abundance, additional mechanisms, such as protein degradation, need also be considered, although their role in systems consolidation has yet to be investigated. Here, we discuss the role of molecular mechanisms in systems consolidation and their implications for understanding how memories persist over time.