Steroid modulation of hippocampal plasticity: Switching between cognitive and emotional memories

Nicola Maggio*, Menahem Segal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Several new observations have shifted the view of the hippocampus from a structure in charge of cognitive processes to a brain area that participates in the formation of emotional memories, in addition to its role in cognition. Specifically, while the dorsal hippocampus is involved in the processing of cognitive memories; the ventral sector is mainly associated with the control of behavioral inhibition, stress, and emotional memory. Stress is likely to cause this switch in control of hippocampal functions by modulating synaptic plasticity in the dorsal and ventral sectors of the hippocampus through the differential activation of mineralocorticosteroid or glucocorticosteroid receptors. Herein, we will review the effects of stress hormones on synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus and outline the outcomes on stress-related global functions of this structure. We propose that steroid hormones act as molecular switches: by changing the strength of synaptic connectivity in the hippocampus following stress, they regulate the routes by which the hippocampus is functionally linked to the rest of the brain. This hypothesis has profound implications for the pathophysiology of psychiatric disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Article number12
JournalFrontiers in Cellular Neuroscience
Issue numberMARCH
StatePublished - 20 Mar 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Corticosterone receptors
  • Hippocampus
  • LTP
  • Stress
  • Synaptic plasticity


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