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To make memories, new neurons must erase older ones
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The researchers led by Kaoru Inokuchi of The University of Toyama in Japan say the discovery shows a more important role than many would have anticipated for the erasure of memories. They propose that the birth of new neurons promotes the gradual loss of memory traces from the hippocampus as those memories are transferred elsewhere in the brain for permanent storage. Although they examined this process only in the context of fear memory, Inokuchi says he "thinks all memories that are initially stored in the hippocampus are influenced by this process."

In effect, the new results suggest that failure of neurogenesis will lead to problems because the brain's short-term memory is literally full. In Inokuchi's words, we may perhaps experience difficulties in acquiring new information because the storage capacity of the hippocampus is "occupied by un-erased old memories."

Of course, Inokuchi added, "our finding does not necessary deny the important role of neurogenesis in memory acquisition." Hippocampal neurogenesis could have a dual role, he says, in both erasing old memories and acquiring new ones.

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