Apoptotic and neurogenic events in the adult hippocampus are hypothesized to play a role in cognitive responses to new contexts. Corticosteroid-mediated stress responses and other neural processes invoked by substantially novel contextual changes may regulate these processes. Using elementary three-layer neural networks that learn by incremental synaptic plasticity, we explored whether the cognitive effects of differential regimens of neuronal turnover depend on the environmental context in terms of the degree of novelty in the new information to be learned. In “adult” networks that had achieved mature synaptic connectivity upon prior learning of the Roman alphabet, imposition of apoptosis/neurogenesis before learning increasingly novel information (alternate Roman < Russian < Hebrew) reveals optimality of informatic cost benefits when rates of turnover are geared in proportion to the degree of novelty. These findings predict that flexible control of rates of apoptosis-neurogenesis within plastic, mature neural systems optimizes learning attributes under varying degrees of contextual change, and that failures in this regulation may define a role for adult hippocampal neurogenesis in novelty- and stress-responsive psychiatric disorders.

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