Active adult neurogenesis occurs in discrete brain regions of all mammals and is widely regarded as a neuronal replacement mechanism. Whether adult-born neurons make unique contributions to brain functions is largely unknown. Here we systematically characterized synaptic plasticity of retrovirally labeled adult-born dentate granule cells at different stages during their neuronal maturation. We identified a critical period between 1 and 1.5 months of the cell age when adult-born neurons exhibit enhanced long-term potentiation with increased potentiation amplitude and decreased induction threshold. Furthermore, such enhanced plasticity in adult-born neurons depends on developmentally regulated synaptic expression of NR2B-containing NMDA receptors. Our study demonstrates that adult-born neurons exhibit the same classic critical period plasticity as neurons in the developing nervous system. The transient nature of such enhanced plasticity may provide a fundamental mechanism allowing adult-born neurons within the critical period to serve as major mediators of experience-induced plasticity while maintaining stability of the mature circuitry.
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