A Baldwin interpretation of adult hippocampal neurogenesis: from functional relevance to physiopathology

Djoher Nora Abrous, Muriel Koehl, Maël Lemoine
Mol Psychiatry. 2021-06-08; :
DOI: 10.1038/s41380-021-01172-4

Hippocampal adult neurogenesis has been associated to many cognitive, emotional, and behavioral functions and dysfunctions, and its status as a selected effect or an “appendix of the brain” has been debated. In this review, we propose to understand hippocampal neurogenesis as the process underlying the “Baldwin effect”, a particular situation in evolution where fitness does not rely on the natural selection of genetic traits, but on “ontogenetic adaptation” to a changing environment. This supports the view that a strong distinction between developmental and adult hippocampal neurogenesis is made. We propose that their functions are the constitution and the lifelong adaptation, respectively, of a basic repertoire of cognitive and emotional behaviors. This lifelong adaptation occurs through new forms of binding, i.e., association or dissociation of more basic elements. This distinction further suggests that a difference is made between developmental vulnerability (or resilience), stemming from dysfunctional (or highly functional) developmental hippocampal neurogenesis, and adult vulnerability (or resilience), stemming from dysfunctional (or highly functional) adult hippocampal neurogenesis. According to this hypothesis, developmental and adult vulnerability are distinct risk factors for various mental disorders in adults. This framework suggests new avenues for research on hippocampal neurogenesis and its implication in mental disorders.

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